Pastor David B. Curtis


The Flesh/Spirit Contrast

Romans 8:5-11

Delivered 10/09/2011

We are looking at Romans 8; this chapter contains the greatest concentration of references to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, an average of one almost every two verses. This chapter starts with "no condemnation" and ends with no separation.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 NASB

"No condemnation" is no spiritual death. The death that Adam brought upon all men, Christ has removed for those who trust in Him. Paul says, "For" in verse 2, which is gar in the Greek; he's giving the reason why there is no condemnation. It is because "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus--this is Torah of the Spirit. Through the death of Christ they become dead to the Law of sin and death. Those who have trusted Christ are free from the Law of the sin and of the death. They are no longer in the body of Adam/Moses, but are in the body of Christ.

"What the Law could not do"--what was impossible was for the Law to give life. It offered it, but could not deliver. It wasn't the Law's fault, the problem was in the flesh. What the Law couldn't do, God did. Salvation is the work of God. Sentence was passed and executed on the sin in Christ's flesh. He condemned the sin. He judged it with finality.

"So that"--is hina and expresses the divine purpose, which is: "the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us"--the righteous requirements of the Torah are fulfilled in us. Paul uses the passive voice to emphasize that Jesus Christ fulfilled this requirement so that nothing of God's justice, no more legal demand, remains for us. The requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us by God.

"Who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit"--doesn't have anything to do with how we act. It is about being under the Old Covenant (flesh), which is death, or being under the New Covenant (Spirit), which is life.

Verses 5-8 form a closely knit section with a series of conjunctions tying the various members together. Here Paul began to elaborate the difference between "flesh" and "Spirit":

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. Romans 8:5 NASB

The "for" indicates verse 5 gives a further description of the two classes of people to whom the reference was made in verse 4b. When you are reading Paul, remember to notice those connectives.

Notice how the NIV translates this verse:

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. Romans 8:5 NIV

This is a terrible translation. The NIV's "sinful nature" is from the Greek word sarx, which should be translated "flesh." Most Christians would define "walking according to the flesh" as doing sinful things, thanks in part to the NIV. The NIV totally obscures this passage.

In this text Paul uses flesh and Spirit to elucidate the contrasting natures of the two covenant ages. He is not talking about Christian conduct:

But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. Galatians 4:29 NASB

In this text the contrast is the Old and New Covenants. When Paul uses kata sarka, "according to the flesh," he is talking about those who are members of the body of Adam/Moses, which is the body of sin, and those who are members of the body of Christ.

"According to the flesh"--is not a Christian doing sinful things; it is walking according to the Old Covenant, or we could say, relying on human merit for salvation. The mind set on the flesh is focused on days, rituals, and circumcision.

Paul uses the same prepositional phrase to explain the antithesis of those who are "according to the flesh." It is those who are "according to the Spirit" (kata pneuma). Living "according to the Spirit"--is trusting in Christ. Their mind is on Christ and what He has done for them:

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, Romans 8:6 NASB

It doesn't say it leads to death. It says it is death. It isn't that they're gonna die. They're dead. They're dead right now. As we have seen, those in the body of Adam/Moses are in the body of death. The Old Covenant was a ministration of death, whereas the New Covenant is life and peace. A characteristic of the New Covenant was that it established peace (Isa 54:13; Ezek 34:25; 37:26):

How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, "Your God reigns!" Isaiah 52:7 NASB

We saw this idea already in:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 5:1 NASB

Peace with God is the new status between God and the believer, which flows from the reconciliation accomplished in Jesus Christ. In the First Testament peace is the gift of the end time when God fulfills His covenant promises to His people. Paul is saying that this eschatological peace is now available for both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus, because the Church is the eschatological community of God.

because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, Romans 8:7 NASB

This verse gives us the reason why the mind of the flesh is death. It is hostile to God, this is Romans 1:

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Romans 1:25 NASB

This was Paul before his conversion. As Saul, he was persecuting Jesus. He thought he was serving God, but he was, in fact, hostile to God. As chapter 7 made clear, the flesh serves the Law of sin:

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. Romans 7:14 NASB

The inability to keep the Mosaic Law was the central theme in chapter 7. The flesh serves sin:

and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:8 NASB

Paul wants the believers in Rome to understand that being in Adam/Moses (in the flesh) is to be incapable of pleasing God. Paul had come to understand that his sincerity in keeping the highest ideals and practices of Judaism had not changed his state of "being in Adam/Moses."

In the statement "And those who are in the flesh cannot please God"--lies the Biblical definition of total depravity. When you talk about the depravity of man, you're talking about an utter inability of the unredeemed to do anything that pleases God.

Does faith please God?:

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6 NASB

So faith pleases God. Now let me ask you this, Can an unregenerate man, a man who is in the flesh, exercise faith? If he could, then he could please God. But the Scriptures clearly teach that "those who are in the flesh cannot please God." So if while dead in Adam man can do nothing to please God, then he must not be able to believe, because faith pleases God. So how does a person in Adam become a Christian? God has to give him life; once alive he will believe.

Now the majority of believers today would say, "The order of our salvation is believe, and then you are regenerated and possess life." That is the reverse of the truth. Paul says, "They that are in the flesh cannot please God." So the biblical ordo salutis (the order of salvation) is that regeneration precedes faith. A dead person cannot believe themselves alive. But an alive person can believe. Paul teaches this same thing in:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 1 Corinthians 2:14 NASB

Notice carefully what this verse says. Natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God--the Gospel. Who is the natural man? The word "natural" comes from the Greek word psuchikos. Jude uses this same Greek word:

These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded [psuchikos], devoid of the Spirit. Jude 1:19 NASB

Jude says, "worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit." So, the natural man is the man without the spirit of God. God's effectual calling, regeneration, is absolutely necessary, because apart from it, man has no ability to understand or desire the things of God. This is not Calvinism, this is Bibleism. Notice what John said:

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 1 John 5:1 NASB

"Whoever believes [present tense] that Jesus is the Christ has been born [perfect tense] of God." No someone will say, "Well, that's just a general truth, that every believer has been born again." Well, you must notice the tenses. The moment that you believed in Jesus Christ, you did so because you had been (past tense) born of God.

The doctrine of the Reformation was that regeneration precedes faith. But if you believe that faith pleases God, and if you believe that faith precedes regeneration, then you believe that they that are in the flesh can please God, which puts you ad odds with the Scripture. Not a good place to be.

So it should be obvious then that we cannot believe of ourselves, that there must be an operation by which we are taken out of the flesh and placed in the spirit, and the first tendency of the man who is given new life by being taken out of the flesh and placed in the Spirit is that he believes.

Now let me ask you another question, Can believers please God? When I talk about pleasing God, we must make a distinction between our position and our practice. As believers, we stand "righteous" before God. The good news of the Bible is that our debts were paid in full by Jesus Christ. And not only has the Christian's debt been paid in full, there is no possibility of going into debt again. Jesus paid the debt of all our sins: past, present, and future. This is GRACE!

So, when I talk about pleasing God, I'm talking to Christians about how they live. We are to live in such a way to please God by all that we do.

The Bible tells us of many things that a believer can do to please God. We have already seen that faith pleases God. There is no way we can live a life that is pleasing to God without trusting Him. God wants us to trust Him. Apart from faith, we cannot please God.

Thousands of believers have trusted Christ for their salvation, but are not living in faith, trusting God in each and every area of their lives. We should be people who live by faith. Everyday and in every way we should be trusting God in our daily lives. But are we? Do we really trust God? When you are hurting and your life seems to be coming apart, do you trust God?

When we fail to trust God, we doubt His sovereignty and question His goodness. God views our distrust as seriously as He views our disobedience. When the children of Israel were hungry, they spoke against God:

Then they spoke against God; They said, "Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? "Behold, He struck the rock so that waters gushed out, And streams were overflowing; Can He give bread also? Will He provide meat for His people?" Psalms 78:19-20 NASB

Why was it that God was so angry with them?:

Therefore the LORD heard and was full of wrath; And a fire was kindled against Jacob And anger also mounted against Israel, Because they did not believe in God And did not trust in His salvation. Psalms 78:21-22 NASB

In order to trust God, we must always view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith. Faith pleases God.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. Romans 8:9 NASB

"However" marks a contrast. Paul's readers were not those who were in the flesh, they were in the Spirit. Who is the "you" here? It is the Roman believers, the ones Paul is writing to. The "you" is emphatic. Paul assures them that they "are not in the flesh but in the Spirit"--meaning that they are not in Adam, but in Christ. How did this happen? How did they go from "in the flesh" to being "in the Spirit?" By a sovereign act of God:

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 1 Peter 1:23 NASB

We are born again "of" (the source which is "imperishable seed") and this happened "by" (which shows instrumentality) the living word of God. New life is not imparted because you believe the truth, you believe the truth because you have been given life.

"If indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you"--"if" should be translated as "since"; it is a first class condition in Greek. It represents a condition that Paul assumed was true to reality. Paul is not casting doubt here.

The word "dwells" here is oikeo, which means:"to dwell, reside, settle down."

Paul uses that word "dwell" back in:

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. Romans 7:18 NASB

God's life-giving Spirit is now the indwelling power withinS God's people. The giving of the Spirit fulfilled the promise of God to Israel:

"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. Ezekiel 36:26-27 NASB

The New Covenant community has received the promised Spirit indwelling. The picture of the Spirit dwelling in God's people is temple theology; the theology of God who dwells within His people. In Christ and the Spirit, God Himself has come down to dwell with His people. Paul is redefining Jewish theology around Christ.

"If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him"--this is one of the clearest statements in Scripture that corrects the false notion that the reception of the Spirit is a second work of grace for the Christian.

Some, through the years, had the idea that you got saved, and then you got the Holy Spirit later. There were many who believed that the Holy Spirit didn't come until, and unless, you had the gift of tongues. And if you never got the gift of tongues, you never got the Holy Spirit.

When Peter reported to the council of leaders in Jerusalem what God had done in accepting the Gentiles, his argument could not have been clearer (Acts 15:7-9). Evidence of their divine acceptance was that they had received the Spirit of God as had the Jerusalem Church at Pentecost.

One common characteristic of all true Christians is the fact that they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We don't need to talk today about "receiving the Holy Spirit," because every believer has received Him. Paul says to his readers, "If you are a Christian, then the Holy Spirit indwells you." The test of the possession of spiritual life is not membership in a church. The test of the possession of spiritual life is not water baptism. It is not sitting at the Lord's table. It is not attendance of meetings in an evangelical church. The final test of the possession of spiritual life is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life. "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him."

So how do we know if someone has the Holy Spirit? Should we expect to see him speaking in tongues? Do we look for signs and wonders being manifest by him? What is the evidence of the Spirit? Faith, belief in Jesus!:

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 1 John 5:1 NASB

If you have faith, you do so because the Spirit indwells you. On the basis of the work of Christ in His death, the Spirit is present with the believing community in Rome, leading her to the New Jerusalem.

If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. Romans 8:10 NASB

"If" here is again "since." Based on a misunderstanding of this verse, most today would say that this is saying that a Christian is a living person inside a dead body, connecting this with 7:24:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Romans 7:24 NASB

If Paul is writing about the experience of the individual believer, as many think, he would be saying that the physical body was still under the sentence of death, eventually yielding to the reality of its mortality.

John MacArthur, who holds this view, writes, "Inner man is ready for Heaven right now. It's just incarcerated in this fallen flesh. So someday when these bodies finally die, our Spirit will be released to live forever, and the flesh which so incapacitates us from fulfilling all the Law all the time will be exterminated."

The problem with this interpretation is that it has departed from the corporate perspective of the letter. Literally, the text reads: "But if Christ is in you [plural], the body [singular] is dead because of sin, yet the Spirit [singular] is life because of righteousness." "If Christ is in you [plural]" is not the type of language that is used of the individual. And Paul does not say: "your bodies are dead," but, "the body [singular] is dead."

Dunn (Romans 1:431) says: "As usual, sw/ma does not mean physical body, but humanity embodied in a particular environment (see 6:6). As most modern commentators recognize, it should not be individualized ('your bodies, as RSV'); rather, the singular denotes the embodiment which characterizes all human existence in this age."

Paul's primary thought is not of individual bodies at all, but of corporate solidarities which inhere in Adam and in Christ, the Old Aeon and the New Aeon. The argument is similar to that found in 2 Corinthians 5:1-21 where Paul speaks of the nature of the earthly dwelling place as corporate, not individual:

For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. 2 Corinthians 5:4 NASB

While "'we' [plural] are in this 'tent' [singular], we groan." Paul could have said, While we are in these tents, we groan.

"The body is dead because of sin"--what body is Paul talking about here? Remember Paul is talking primarily to Jewish believers in this section. The "body" here is singular. This is a reference to the body of Moses, which is part of the body of Adam. It was dead in that it was separated from the presence of God. During the transition period, believing Israelites were not yet free from the body of the death. They were free from the Law of the sin and the death. But the body of Moses was still dead, awaiting the resurrection.

This is the same as, "the body of this death" in 7:24. The argument continues to address the corporate aspects of Sin. "This body of death" is nothing less than the body of Moses, which was a body of sin.

"The spirit is alive [life] because of righteousness"--in the original text capitals were not used in the earliest Greek manuscripts, and so when you come to a word like "spirit," for example, it may be referring to the Holy Spirit or the human spirit. The decisive argument against a reference to the human spirit is the word zoe, which never means "alive," but always means "life." Paul would not say that the human spirit is life, but the connection between the Holy Spirit and life permeates this section. This is during the transition period where the body of Adam/Moses is being put to death, while the Spirit is bringing to life the body of Christ.

It seems clear that Ezekiel 37 influenced Paul's thinking. Paul understood that Ezekiel was saying that the Spirit of the Lord was the means by which the resurrection would be accomplished in Israel:

"Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. 'I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the LORD.'" Ezekiel 37:5-6 NASB
Then He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life."'" So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Ezekiel 37:9-10 NASB
"I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it," declares the LORD.'" Ezekiel 37:14 NASB

So verse 10 is saying that believers will be raised from the dead through the life-giving Spirit on the basis of the covenant faithfulness of God:

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 NASB

This verse give us the complete answer to the question of:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Romans 7:24 NASB

The "Who" that was to set Israel free from the body of death was the Holy Spirit.

Did you notice that Paul did not use a solitary title for the Spirit? He is called "the Spirit," then "the Spirit of God," then "the Spirit of Christ," then "the Spirit," and then "the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead"--that is, the Father. Then he closes by referring to "His Spirit"--again, the Father's. So which is He? Here we have the beauty of Trinitarian language. And what it shows is how the Holy Spirit sustains the same relationship to the second person of the Trinity that He does to the First Person of the Trinity.

Paul calls Jesus the "first fruits of those who have fallen asleep":

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:20 NASB

In the Old Covenant, the priest brought the first gathering of the wheat harvest, the first fruits, into the tabernacle or Temple to dedicate the coming harvest to the Lord (Lev 23:9-11). Paul's audience would have been familiar with this language.

Because Jesus has been raised from the dead by the Spirit, they also will be raised from the dead. The framework of the argument is the community, not the individual. Paul speaks of the Spirit "dwelling in you [plural]."

"Will also give life"--this is the future aspect. This is the promise of future resurrection. The Spirit, who raised up Christ, will one day raise them as well. The Holy Spirit who presently lives within them was a "down payment" on God's future deliverance.

When does the Bible say that the resurrection is to take place? Was it thousands of years off? Does the Bible tell us? Yes, it does. Notice what Paul said to Felix in the first century:

having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, that there is about to be a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous; Acts 24:15 YLT

Paul told his first century audience, "there is about to be a resurrection." Paul is not talking to us; he is talking to Felix, Ananias, Tertullus, and the elders. Paul told them that there was about to be a resurrection. So the timing of the resurrection was "soon," from the perspective of the first century. According to Daniel, the resurrection was to take place at the end of the Jewish age, which happened in A.D. 70.

Paul said that the Spirit would give life to their "Mortal bodies"--this is the plural of sma, "bodies," this is the first time Paul uses it in the plural. This is the same phrase that Paul used in Romans 6:12, but there it was singular. This word "mortal" is used six times in the New Testament, only by Paul. He uses it here and in Romans 6:12. He uses it twice in 1 Corinthians 15, and twice in 2 Corinthians, in 4:11 and 5:4. In the context of chapter 15 mortal is connected with the body of Adam, as opposed to the immortal body of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul is comparing two covenants, the Old and the New. He connects mortal with the Old Covenant, which would be the body of Moses, which was is the "body of Adam." The Old Covenant community was born in the body of Adam.

So the mortal body is the body of Adam. Paul spoke of this in the singular, and now he speaks of it the plural, referring to individuals who are in the body of Adam/Moses, but who have trusted in Christ, and therefore, they individually will be raised into the corporate body of Christ. If you belong to the mortal body, then you are a mortal body individually. Body in the Hebrew mind-set refers to the whole person, not to the physical body as separate from the spirit.

according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. Philippians 1:20 NASB

"Exalted" is megaluno (to make great, enlarge, exalt). Paul gives us the vehicle for magnifying Christ--"my body," which is soma in the Greek. It means: "the entire person." Paul was not talking about exalting Christ by his physical body, but by his person, all he said and did.

So Paul uses "mortal bodies" here because his focus is no longer the corporate experience of resurrection, but that of each believer. Paul speaks of their common experience as members one of another and as members of Christ. Because the Spirit dwells in them collectively, as God's temple. He will care for them and raise every individual member of that community on the last day. This is a promise of resurrection life to each and every believer. This promise was fulfilled for them in A.D. 70, when the perishable put on the imperishable, and the mortal put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53).

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