There are many times that I have been all set to share something on a Sunday morning, but faced some kind of delay in getting that far, and the following week, discovered some insights that would make my sharing of these things all the better. This is what is happening as I try to move from Romans 7 to Romans 8.
This morning I learned something crucial to understanding what Paul is saying in Romans 8. It encouraged me about how God works everything together for good in the lives of his children, and it also helped me see how looking at these things this week is going to help our church family walk together in the Spirit.
For a long time, I have thought of Romans 7 as a focus on life in the flesh/sark, and Romans 8 a focus on life in the Spirit. Each chapter was like a separate box, and we needed to be in one or the other. With that boxed-in approach, it seemed like Paul could only have been writing Romans 7 in reference to his non-Christian life, and Romans 8 in reference to the Christian life. The Romans 8 life was to replace the Romans 7 life, simple as that.
HOWEVER… Paul is not talking as though the believer completely cuts ties with the flesh upon our conversion. While we do not support churches that say that someone can be a “carnal” Christian who has no desire to live a righteous life in Christ Jesus, neither do we believe in sinless perfection in this earthly lifetime. We know that the flesh/sark is a constant tag-along for Christians, both because Scripture shows that in so many ways, and because we have seen so many examples of that very thing.
So, what is the real contrast between Romans 7 and Romans 8? It seems to be more about cutting ties with the law, something we can do, than cutting ties with the sark/flesh, something we cannot do until heaven.
What stood out today was Paul’s declaration at the end of the chapter, “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” What I suddenly realized is that THIS is the Christian life that needs the life in the Spirit Paul teaches in Romans 8. In other words, the Christian life is not a choice between having the flesh, or having the Spirit. We have both. We have a mind that wants to serve the law of God, we have the flesh that wants to serve the law of sin, and we have the Spirit who leads us to cry out, “Abba! Father!” instead of doing what the flesh prefers.
When I go back to Paul’s earlier summary, “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,” I see that the contrast is not between the Spirit and the flesh, but between the Spirit and “the old way of the written code.”
Paul has not been telling us that we can live without the battle between the mind that wants to serve God’s law, and the flesh that wants to serve the law of sin. He has been telling us that we are able to live completely free of the written code that condemns us as sinners. Paul has already explained how the law keeps stirring up our flesh to do sinful things. Instead of the written code that gives sin so much opportunity to stir up the flesh to sinful passions, we have “the new way of the Spirit.”
In other words, we do not handle the dichotomy between the mind that seeks God’s law, and the flesh that serves the law of sin, by trying to follow the written code. That only gives sin something to work with to stir up the sinful desires of the flesh. Instead, we are able to handle the mind/flesh dichotomy by life in the Spirit.
This is really helping me to see that the contrast is not between the Spirit and the sark, but between the Spirit and the written code. Which one makes us righteous? If it is the written code, we are helpless because sin uses the written code to stir up our sarks (our flesh) to sin. If it is the Spirit, there is no written code to judge us.
Suddenly the first line of Romans 8 takes on a huge new significance to me. It says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). Why is it that there is no condemnation? Is it because we no longer have that mind/flesh dichotomy where the mind wants to serve the law of God, and the flesh wants to serve the law of sin?
No, it is because “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (8:2). You see, it is not that the Spirit has set us free from the flesh, or from the mind/flesh battle. It is that the Spirit has set us free from the “law of sin and death”. Everything Paul has said about how sin takes advantage of the law to stir up the sinful passions of the flesh is met in this amazing transformation, that we are no longer under the law of the “written code,” but under “the new way of the Spirit.”
Why is this so encouraging? Because we don’t even need to try to stop the battle between the mind that wants to serve the law of God, and the flesh that wants to serve the law of sin. That will be there our whole earthly life. Instead, we are to serve in the new way of the Spirit so that the law does not give our flesh any encouragement to sin.
I can hardly wait to see what happens going through Romans 8 with that view, that it is about the glorious way that the life of the Spirit makes the law powerless against us any longer. The life of the Spirit, or the “new way of the Spirit,” is what saves us from bondage to the mind/sark dichotomy. It is while that battle is always in effect that, if we turn to the Holy Spirit, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
How is it that we are more than conquerors? Is it because we no longer have the dichotomy between the mind that serves the law of God, and the sark that serves the law of sin? No, it is because we now do our conquering in “the new way of the Spirit,” rather than by trying to be righteous by “the old way of the written code.” As soon as the written code is removed, being fully satisfied by the death of Jesus Christ, sin has nothing to work with, and believers in Jesus Christ keep being conformed to the same likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ “from one degree of glory to another,” which, Paul adds, “For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
When Paul says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” and then adds, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” he is concluding this whole focus on how the answer to our battle is not by trying to measure up to the written code. The answer is found in Jesus Christ our Lord, and it is applied into our lives by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
I have seen the good and the bad of churches trying to work through differences. Some handle things according to laws, and rules, and give sin all kinds of room to make them do things in the flesh that they would never think of when their mind is set on Christ. No matter how good their intentions, or how right they believe they are (which is always the case in the flesh), they bear the fruit of the flesh.
Others, who have the same problem of the mind seeking to serve the law of God, and the flesh seeking to serve the law of sin, keep bringing everything to their life in the Spirit. Even though they may struggle with insecurities about what is the right thing to do, they remain true to seeking God by his Spirit, they hear his voice speaking to them through his word, they see things that God is doing, and they join him in his work. Even when severely outnumbered, they still evidence the fruit of the Spirit, since they are living according to the new way of the Spirit.
I do know this much, that handling things only in the flesh will guarantee failure, while relying on the Spirit to lead us in God’s will guarantees victory. The mind/flesh battle will still be in effect, but we will win the battle in the Spirit.
© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)