LED BY THE SPIRIT
Romans 8:1-17, Key Verse: 14
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.”
I think it’s safe to say that in one way or another, everybody is looking for a new way to live—a way that will set them on higher ground and give them real victory over the struggles that they face day by day. But what can give us power to live in a new way? Many people live as if money can do that for them. Others think science will achieve it. But the gospel teaches us that the power to live victoriously comes from the Holy Spirit, whom God gives us when we have faith in Jesus Christ. In this Chapter of Romans, Paul talks about life lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, based on Jesus’ death and resurrection. By the Spirit, we can have joy and peace and we can please God and have assurance that we are his beloved children. So let’s earnestly seek to learn what it means to be led by the Spirit.
I. The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (1-4)
Two weeks ago, in Chapter 6, we learned about the source of power we have to live a new life, that is, to become sanctified. This power comes from our being united with Jesus in his death and resurrection. Apostle Paul wrote that we are dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (6:4, 6:11). It’s really wonderful. But in Chapter 7, Paul was inspired to say more about the inward struggle that we go through in this sanctification process. Paul described an intense conflict that goes on between our mind, which knows that God’s law is holy and righteous and wants to keep it, and our sinful nature, or flesh, which always pulls us in the opposite direction. This conflict was so severe that it made Paul say, “What a wretched man I am!” But it also made him say, “Who shall rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” We concluded that this struggle is a necessary step to cure us of our strong tendency toward legalism and self-righteousness, so that we may fully depend on Jesus’ salvation.
Chapter 8 starts with the assurance of salvation through God’s finished work in Christ. Let’s read Chapter 8 verse 1. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This verse has been an abundant source of comfort to so many believers. When we trust Jesus by faith, then no matter how much we struggle, no matter how many times we stumble and fall, there is no possibility that we are condemned. Did you ever think about why this verse makes us feel so much better? It’s because often we do feel condemned! People feel condemnation in their hearts every day. We can feel condemned every time we fall into a big or small sin. Paul told us that that’s the power of the law. When we try to live according to the law, the law invariably condemns us as sinners. But in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation. I really appreciate how this is expressed as “there is no condemnation.” Paul could have said, “Jesus took away our condemnation.” But saying “there is no condemnation” indicates that the concept of condemnation does not even exist for us anymore.
How does being in Christ Jesus deliver us from condemnation so completely? Paul explains in the next verses that it’s because in Jesus there is now a new kind of law, which he calls the Law of the Spirit of life. Look at verse 2. “…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” The law and its regulations states that everyone who breaks the law must die. But now, a new and stronger law has come and defeated the old law and its power to condemn.
In verses 3 and 4 Paul gets more technical: “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Because of the weakness of our flesh, that is, our physical nature which has been corrupted by sin, we are unable to keep the law. But because Jesus came in the flesh but was without sin, his death was a perfect offering to atone for all our sins. Thus, in Jesus, sin itself is condemned, its power over us canceled. Verse 4 says that in Jesus we are considered as having met the righteous requirement of the law.
This is not really a different concept from what we studied about the gospel in earlier chapters; it’s just expressed in a new way. Then why did Paul go back to this point and emphasize it again? I think it’s because, in the struggle against our flesh’s sinful desires, to win the victory we first of all need to realize the finished work of Jesus. As a result of that, we do have a new way to live, one that’s far above the flesh and the law. It’s the way of the Spirit. And so verse 4 concludes by saying that we are those who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Now let’s think more about this new way of living.
II. The Spirit-governed life (5-13)
The first thing to know about new life in the Spirit is that it changes our mindset. Look at verse 5. “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” What we set our minds on, that is, our “mindset”, is so important. It determines what we pursue and how we pursue it. When we had no spiritual life from the Holy Spirit, our minds were not free. Our minds were trapped in the realm of the flesh. If our minds are controlled by the flesh, we always think about gratifying sinful desires. Some have categorized these into the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. Sinful desires devour our minds and make us crazy. Ultimately, they lead to death. If we think we can do what God wants while our mind is still set on the flesh, we are fooling ourselves. Verses 7 and 8 say, “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.”
On the other hand, when we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we can live in accordance with the Spirit and our mind can be governed by the Spirit. When our minds are governed by the spirit, we are out of reach of sinful desires. We have new and holy desires. We can think about how to please God creatively, willingly and joyfully. As verse 6 says, the result of this is life and peace. Being governed by the Spirit, we bear fruit to God.
Isn’t the life in the Spirit wonderful? If anyone doesn’t have such a life, surely they would want it if they heard about it. Are you in the realm of the Spirit? If we trust Christ, we don’t have to doubt that we have access to the Spirit’s power. Verse 9 says, “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.” Then it says, “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” That sounds negative, and it is. If someone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they are not genuine Christians, no matter what they may say about themselves. But if you studied logic, you know that a statement is equivalent to its contrapositive statement. That means that the sentence “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ” is equivalent to saying that if anyone does belong to Christ, they do have the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit is a gift promised to every believer.
Paul keeps mentioning Christ here, and he says that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. That’s important because Holy Spirit is not something we can have apart from Christ. But if we trust Christ, his righteousness is ours and we do have this Spirit at work in us. Of course, the reality is that while we are in this life, we are in a body subject to sinful temptations, and finally death. But Paul assures us that the Spirit is still able to work in this environment. Verses 10 and 11: “But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if 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.” Even our mortal bodies can be “driven” by the Spirit so that they become, as described in Chapter 6, instruments of righteousness.
We don’t have to doubt that God gives us his Spirit if we trust Christ. But it is true that living in accordance with the Spirit is partly our responsibility. It’s not like we don’t have any obligation. If anyone thinks they have no obligation, they should read the first part of verse 12, which says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation.” Then what is our obligation? First of all, it says what our obligation is not. We have no obligation to live according to the flesh. Why does he say that? It’s because once we were slaves to sin, and we only obeyed our sinful nature day in and day out. Christ set us free from the obligation to live according to the flesh, and we should be very thankful for that, because living according to the flesh results in death. Our new obligation, is described in verse 13b. “…but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
How can we do that? How can we use the Spirit’s power that has been given to us to put to death the misdeeds of our body? In our Friday night Bible study. M. Mary Kim pointed out that these strong words “put to death” show that we are meant to win a real victory over sinful desires, decisively leaving behind our former sinful way of life. No Christian should think that they are doomed to live in the same pattern of sin forever.
We’ve actually been studying how to put our sinful deeds to death in previous chapters of Romans. One thing is clear: we shouldn’t try to put our sinful deeds to death by the Law! Winning the victory over sin starts with relying on the finished work of Christ, understanding that it applies to us directly. As Chapter 6 verse 11 says, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” We remind ourselves that we have been transplanted from the realm of the flesh to the realm of the Spirit, where sin shall no longer be our master, because we are not under the law, but under grace (6:14). Then, we offer ourselves to God to be his instruments of righteousness. One practical part of it is that we should seek to set our minds on what the Spirit desires, as we read in the earlier verses. Paul commands us to do this very clearly in Colossians 3:2. He says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” We need to set holy goals before our minds. The Word of God can be a big help in that. Personally, I find the most freedom from sinful desires when I keep the goal of knowing Christ in my heart as my true ambition. May God bless us with victory over deeds that lead to death by living in accordance with the Spirit.
III. The Spirit of Sonship (14-18)
The greatest part of the new life in the Spirit is actually not what it gives us power to do; the greatest part is the relationship it gives us with God. Look at verse 14. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” All the blessings that we enjoy as believers can be included under this one thing—that we are the children of God, that God is our loving Father. Now, some people have good associations with the term “Father”, because they had a good earthly father. For others, the word actually brings them pain because of all that they’ve suffered under a bad human father. And others don’t even know what it is to have a father at all. Regardless of that, we should know that a good father is one of the greatest blessings a person can have, and our heavenly Father is the best.
What’s it like to know the Fatherliness of God? Look at verse 15. “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” There is important context behind Paul’s contrast of slavery with sonship in this verse. In Roman society, the change in status from a slave to a son could actually happen. Under Roman law, an adoption process could be carried out in which a wealthy Roman citizen would choose one of his servants to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate. That adopted son would be considered fully equal to a biological son, not inferior in the least.
Paul calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of adoption to sonship” because what the Holy Spirit does for us is like the Roman adoption process. Through the Spirit we have gained that full relationship with God as his children. Knowing we have received an adoption like this helps us overcome the other great enemy (besides sin) of our spiritual life—namely, fear. Fear gives our sinful desires so much more power than they would have otherwise. For example, greed gains power over people when they have fears about their material security. There’s no way of getting out of a sinful pattern of life without also dealing with our fear problem.
The life of a slave is marked by fear. Slaves are afraid of their masters. They are in a constant state of anxiety, because, as Jesus said, they have no permanent place in the household. But children of a loving father are very confident and courageous, even when they make mistakes, because they know their father loves them unconditionally. Children of a loving and providing father know that their purpose is not merely to survive, but to learn and grow under their father’s care. The Holy Spirit makes us feel this love in our hearts, so that we call out to God, “Abba, Father.” The word Abba in Aramaic is the familiar, intimate term that children call their father, like “Daddy” in English. Verse 16 says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
Finally, look at verse 17. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” I guess all of us have thought about what it would be like to be born or marry into a very wealthy family. But God is the wealthiest of all. If we are his heirs, everything is ours. We are like brothers of Jesus in the same family. We can feel very affluent, and know that we have an inheritance beyond compare, described by Paul with the word “glory”. And so, we are shifting in the book of Romans from the topic of sanctification to the topic of glorification.
But there is something else in this verse, as you saw. If we become like Jesus as heirs of God’s kingdom, we also become like Jesus in suffering. Being children of God doesn’t exempt us from pain and trouble in this world, any more than it did Jesus. When we suffer it is hard to feel rich or glorious. Rather, we are sorrowful, lonely, regretful and may shrink back. However, when we suffer with Christ, our suffering is very meaningful. When we know this, we can be joyful and thankful like the apostles. When they preached the gospel, the Sanhedrin called them in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Ac 5:40-41). Christ suffered so much for our sins. He was flogged and nailed to a cross. After his suffering, he entered resurrection glory. Christ set us an example that we should follow in his steps (1Pe 2:21).
We should clarify one thing about this verse. The purpose of this saying “if indeed we share in his sufferings” is not to make us question whether we are suffering enough to earn some glory. That’s not how the gospel works. In fact, everybody suffers, whether they are a believer or not. But God will send us the right amount of suffering at the right time for us in his perfect love, to use us for his great redemptive purpose and prepare us for glory. So we just have to equip ourselves with the confidence that when we suffer with Christ, we will share his glory.
Today we learned that we are led by the Spirit as children of God. He gives us life and peace. We have an obligation to put to death the misdeeds of our bodies. We have the privilege of having fellowship with God, calling him, “Father,” overcoming all our fears. The Holy Spirit is always with us and enables us to live as God’s children. Let’s trust the Holy Spirit and follow the Holy Spirit and live as children of God.