The Spirit of Life
The Christian life is not easy. It is impossible.
The Apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 7. He says:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Romans 7:18-19, ESV
This conflict is common to us all. Every man, woman and child who tries to live a godly life has experienced this dilemma, and there are three common responses.
The first response is to reject the whole idea of good and evil or sin. This rejection takes many forms. The atheist claims God does not exist and therefore cannot be offended by sin. The moralist claims that all people are basically good and sin is an outdated way of thinking. This first response is the response of the unbelieving world.
The second and third responses are from within those who call themselves Christian. These two responses follow the pattern set before us in the Scriptures of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. These two responses accept a form of godliness but deny its power. (2 Timothy 3:5 tells us of such people.)
The Sadducee is the person who holds the truths of Christianity in such a way that they fit in with the views of the world. This person might teach that God is love and overlooks and forgives everyone's sin. Of course, this like all the responses, takes on many forms, but the main idea is that this person's Christianity does not distinguish them from the world. This person looks and acts about the same as those who have responded the first way. This response denies that sin is much of a problem.
The Pharisee is a person whose response seems to be an acceptance of the truth of Scripture. This person attends church, prays, reads the Bible, tithes and serves. This person though has rejected the statement of the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul said, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out." Well, this person is carrying it out. He or she has the desire to do good and is doing it. The result is a righteousness acquired or attained by keeping rules.
As I said, we all face the dilemma of what Paul is talking about in Romans 7:18-19. We have looked at three common responses, but now I want to look at an uncommon response. Our Lord says:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7:13-14, ESV
Our Lord tells us that few find the way to life. It is the uncommon response to the dilemma we are talking about. I wish it were not so, but even among church-going people, this is true. This is true for a very simple reason. Paul mentions it in Romans 8:7 when he says, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot." This is why our churches are filled with second and third response people, i.e. Pharisees and Sadducees. We respond in the flesh, which is natural.
Defeat and disappointment are not the normal Christian life. We are described as "more than conquerors." (Romans 8:37) God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Corinthians 15:57) Romans 8:1 tells us:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1, ESV
Jesus condemned both the Pharisees and Sadducees. To say that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God is itself a condemning statement. I want to look at what the difference is. Why is there no condemnation for those who are in Christ, and why the difference?
However, before we look at these two questions. Let's consider this statement of Romans 8:1. The Apostle Paul has just finished his statement of the conflict within Himself that we quoted from Romans 7. He even writes, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24) The next words off his pen are:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
This is a huge shout of victory and triumphant. My own rendering would be “Since this is true, there is not even one condemning judgment against those who are in Christ Jesus." This is actually what chapter 7 is trying to teach, that we have died with Christ to the requirements of the Law. And, this is what is restated in Romans 8:2:
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2, ESV
We are under a new law, the law of the Spirit of life. The idea of this law was introduced in chapter 7 verses 4 through 6. It is worth quoting the whole text here:
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. Romans 7:4-6, ESV
This is the difference and the answer to why there is no condemnation. Jesus has set us free from that which held us captive. He has defeated sin in our flesh. This is Romans 8:3-4:
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4, ESV
This answers why there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. They do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. The three common responses are according to the flesh. The uncommon response is according to the Spirit. This is a huge difference, and it makes all the difference in a person's life. Romans 8:6 says it best when it says:
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6, ESV
We see the difference the uncommon response can make in a person's life. The difference is here described as being the difference between death and life. We also see the difference in the people. The passage above talks about the set of the mind. In English, we speak of "mindset." This describes the assumptions and/or notions that govern our lives. The Greek being translated does not use the word mind. It uses the word "φρονοῦσιν" (phronousin), which means: I think, judge, observe. Therefore, the text is talking about thinking, judging or observing according to the flesh or the Spirit. It is uncommon to think, judge and observe our lives from the perspective of the Spirit, and here is why.
Romans 1:17 says it when it says; "The righteous shall live by faith."
To walk according to the Spirit is uncommon because faith is uncommon.
There is another passage that describes how a person walks according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. Galatians 2:20 says:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20, ESV
As you can see, faith figures prominently in how a person lives. This passage says, "...the life I now live...I live by faith." Salvation is a gift, a free gift. There is nothing we must do to earn or deserve it. It is something we receive and we receive it by faith. In other words, we receive it by believing.
One of the things we must believe in order to receive salvation is that there is nothing we can do to earn it. This is why the Apostle Paul says very clearly, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh." (Romans 7:18) This is another reason why faith is uncommon. We try to be good. We try to change ourselves. We try to keep the rules. We do not like to accept the truth that is pointed out in "nothing good dwells in me." The Spirit of the Lord, speaking through the Apostle Paul says,
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:7-8, ESV
The mind that is set on the flesh is the natural mind. It is the way we are born. According to 1 Corinthians 2:14, the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, and he or she is not even able to understand them. Spiritual things are foolishness to the natural person. This is why the common responses actually reject the truth.
The life of the Spirit is evidenced by faith, and faith is evidenced by walking in the Spirit. This is circular. We cannot have one without the other. The life of faith shows itself in not living to please the flesh. It is described as Christ living in me. It is living according to the law of the Spirit of life. It is entirely a work of the Holy Spirit who is Christ living in me. It is something we receive by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of life. He is the Spirit of Christ. This is why Romans 8:9 says:
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Romans 8:9, ESV
Many Christians throughout many generations have testified that life in the Spirit is joy and happiness and peace. Many Christians have testified that if the Spirit of God dwells in you, you know it. The Apostle Paul points this out when he says:
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God… Romans 8:16, ESV
The Christian life is not easy. It is impossible for us in the flesh. However, the Christian life lived in the Spirit is a life of rest and joy and peace. It is described in the words of Galatians 2:20.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)
There is no condemnation. We have been set free. Life in the Spirit is life without condemnation. Life in the Spirit is a life of freedom. However, unbelief keeps us from entering into this rest that God has provided. First, we still believe we can be good enough by our own efforts, and second we fail to apprehend by faith the truth that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.