Living according to the Spirit

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Romans 8:5-11

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “The Greatest Chapter in the Bible” and we are looking at Romans 8 together. Last week we looked at verses 1-4 which teaches us that we have been set free from sin by the Spirit of God. This week we want to see how that works. What does it mean to live according to the Spirit? (Read Romans 8:5-11 and pray)

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Where does the power come from to live the Christian life? Because if it comes from us, we’re in big trouble.

We are studying Romans 8 together, but I want to go back to Romans 7 for a moment. There is an interesting contrast between Romans 7 and Romans 8. Romans 7 is all about struggling with sin, and there is one word that comes up over and over again. It is the word “I.” “I” is the predominant word in chapter 7. It appears about thirty times, usually in the context of what “I” do or do not do. And if there’s one thing Romans 7 makes clear, “I” cannot live the Christian life on my own.

But something interesting happens when you come to Romans 8. The word “I” almost completely disappears! It only shows up in verses 18 and 38 where Paul says, “I consider,” and “I am convinced.” Instead we get a new word that is repeated over and over again. And that is the word “Spirit.” The word “Spirit” occurs about twenty times in Romans 8, more than any other chapter in the Bible.

How do you live the Christian life? By living according to the Spirit. That’s where we ended last week. We ended last week with verse 4 which says: “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4) Now Paul tells us what he means by living according to the Spirit.

I. Your life follows your mind (5-6)

Paul begins by establishing the principle that your life follows your mind.

   A. You live according to what your mind is set on (5)
      – Romans 12:2

You live according to what your mind is set on. That’s what we read in Romans 8:5: “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)

To have your mind set on something is what you seek or desire in life. It’s what you focus on in life. It’s sort of like when you’re learning to drive, the driving instructor tells you to look ahead, because you have a tendency to drive towards what you focus on. You look at the cow by the side of the road, and you might turn the wheel in that direction. You focus on the road ahead, and you’ll drive straight.

So much of the Christian life has to do with the battlefield of the mind. That’s why later in Romans 12 Paul will talk about being “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) The word “repent” means not only to change your direction but also to change your mind. When you repent, you change your mind about God and sin and righteousness.

But as we’ll see in a moment, that’s not an easy thing to do. In fact, it’s not even possible for us to do on our own. Unless God makes a fundamental change in your mind, your mind will stay focused on the things of this world, and you will not be able to live according to the Spirit of God.

   B. The mind set on sinful things results in death; the mind set on the Spirit results in life and peace (6)
      – Galatians 5:19-23

That is a real problem because these two different mindsets produce two very different results. The mind set on sinful things results in death, whereas the mind set on the Spirit results in life and peace. That’s what Paul says in verse 6: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6)

In other words, there are consequences to your mindset both in this life and the next. The stakes couldn’t be higher. You will either experience spiritual death and decay in this life along with eternal separation from God in the next, or you will enjoy spiritual life and peace in this life along with eternal life with God in the next.

Paul describes the results of these two different mindsets in more detail in the book of Galatians. We read in Galatians 5: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:19-23)

Which do you want? A life marked by hatred, discord, jealousy, anger and envy? Or a life marked by love, joy, patience, peace and kindness? Paul says, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6) Your life follows your mind.

II. When you live according to the sinful nature (7-8)

Next Paul goes on to describe what it is like when you live according to the sinful nature. And he tells us three things. 1) Your mind is hostile to God. 2) Your mind does not and cannot submit to God’s law. 3) Therefore, you cannot please God.

   A. Your mind is hostile to God (7a)

First of all, your mind is hostile to God. We see this in verse 7: “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” (Romans 8:7a) Our English Bibles use the adjective here, “hostile,” but in the original it’s actually a noun. You could translate it: “The sinful mind is hostility towards God.” It’s a strong word meaning hatred, hostility, or enmity towards another.

And so, Paul is telling us that before you came to Christ your mind was not neutral towards God, but hostile. And not just hostile to God but actually hostility itself. Donald Grey Barnhouse comments on this verse: “It is not merely said that the carnal mind is an enemy, for enemies may be reconciled, but that it is enmity, and enmity cannot be reconciled. It must be slain, and it has been slain at the cross of Christ.” (Barnhouse; Commentary on Romans)

Your sinful nature naturally rebels against God and God’s ways. What is it like when you live according to the sinful nature? First of all, your mind is hostile to God,

   B. Your mind does not and cannot submit to God’s law (7b)

Secondly, your mind does not and cannot submit to God’s law. That’s what Paul says about the sinful mind in the second part of verse 7: “It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:7b)

First of all, we can all testify to the truth of the first part of this statement, that the sinful mind does not submit to God’s law. How many of you have kept God’s law perfectly? We can just walk our way through the commandments.

“You shall have no other God’s before me.” Have you ever put anything before God in your life? “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” Have you ever taken the name of the Lord in vain? “Honor your mother and father.” Have you ever talked back to your parents? “You shall not murder.” Have you ever hated anyone? “You shall not commit adultery.” Have you ever had any lustful thoughts? “You shall not steal.” Have you ever taken anything that was not yours? “You shall not give false testimony.” Have you ever told a lie? “You shall not covet.” Have you ever wanted something that belonged to someone else?

And that’s just eight of the ten commandments. What about all the other commands in Scripture as well? So, we can all testify that what Paul says here is very true. The sinful mind does not submit to God’s law.

But Paul says something even stronger here, doesn’t he? “The sinful mind does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:7b) It’s not simply that we do not submit to God’s law but that we cannot. We are unable to. The reason you do not submit to God’s law is because you cannot. You are completely unable to follow God’s law on your own.

The law of God is a revelation of his character. The law represents who God is. And so those who do not submit to God’s law are not only opposed to the law, they are opposed to God himself. Which is exactly what Paul says in verse 7. The sinful mind is hostile to God. That is why it does not and cannot submit to God’s law.

   C. Therefore, you cannot please God (8)

All this means that you cannot please God on your own. That’s what Paul says in verse 8: “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” (Romans 8:8) To please God means to be acceptable in his sight. We can only be accepted before God by faith in Christ, and we can only please God with our lives when we live according to the Spirit. We cannot please God in and of ourselves. To please God when your mind is hostile towards him and when you do not or cannot submit to his law would be a contradiction in terms.

What is it like when you live according to the sinful nature? Your mind is hostile to God. Your mind does not and cannot submit to God’s law. Therefore, you cannot please God. Which means we are all in big trouble.

III. When the Spirit of God lives in you (9-11)

Thankfully, God did not leave us on our own to live the Christian life. God sent Jesus to forgive you of your sins, and God sent the Holy Spirit to help you live a life that is pleasing to him. Paul just described what it’s like when you live according to the sinful nature. Now he describes what it’s like when the Spirit of God lives in you.

It’s a whole different world when the Holy Spirit enters the picture. Paul tells us three things that happen when the Spirit of God lives in you. 1) You are controlled by the Spirit. 2) Your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 3) The Spirit also gives life to your body. Let’s look at all three of these now.

   A. You are controlled by the Spirit (9)
      – John 14:16-17

First of all, when the Spirit of God lives in you, you are controlled by the Spirit. That’s what Paul says in verse 9: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:9)

Now we need to be careful with the word “controlled” here. We don’t want to think in terms of being controlled like a robot. The idea is more along the lines of what is the primary influence in your life. Before you became a believer, your sinful nature ruled or dominated your life. But now that you have come to Christ, the Holy Spirit becomes the new dominant force in your life. You are no longer controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.

This is because the Holy Spirit now lives in you. Paul has mentioned the Spirit several times in this chapter already, but now he dives deeper. Notice he identifies the Spirit as both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of Christ is another name for the Holy Spirit. It does not mean that the Holy Spirit is the same as Christ any more than calling Jesus the Son of God makes Jesus the same as God the Father. But it does mean that the Holy Spirit is one with Christ even as Jesus is one with the Father.

It is important to understand that the Holy Spirit is a person, just like Jesus is a person. Jesus told his disciples in John 14: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17) He was talking about the Holy Spirit. God sent the Holy Spirit to be with us forever and in fact to live within us.

Earlier Paul spoke of us being in Christ. Now he speaks of the Spirit being in us. And since it is the Spirit of Christ, Christ is in us as well. In fact, God the Father and God the Son both come to dwell in the believer through the Holy Spirit. That’s why the Holy Spirit becomes the new dominant force in your life. He is the Spirit of God, and he brings God into your life.

Notice this is true for all believers. Paul says: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:9) There are many different ways to describe a Christian, but this is one of the better ones. A Christian is simply someone who has the Holy Spirit. If you do not have the Holy Spirit, you are not a believer. If you are a believer, you have the Holy Spirit. And if you have the Holy Spirit, then you are no longer controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit of God.

That’s the first thing that happens when the Spirit of God lives in you. You are controlled by the Spirit.

   B. Your spirit is alive because of righteousness (10)
      – Ephesians 2:4-5

Secondly, your spirit is alive because of righteousness. That’s what Paul says in verse 10: “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:10) Remember, Christ is in you because the Spirit of Christ is in you.

Now your body doesn’t change when you become a Christian. It is still dead because of sin. In other words, it is still a mortal body. Your sins have been forgiven, and you have been freed from the power of sin, but the results of sin still linger in your body. You still get old. You still get sick. You will still die.

But even though your body is still dead because of sin, your spirit is alive because of righteousness. In one sense this refers directly to your spirit, that you have been made alive in Christ. But it could also refer to the Holy Spirit who is life and gives life – both spiritual life now and resurrection life later.

Either way, when the Spirit of God lives in you, you are given new life in Christ. We read in Ephesians 2: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

And this all happens because of righteousness. When you put your faith in Christ, you are given a new righteousness, a righteousness that is not your own. It is a gift of God’s grace. You are given the very righteousness of Christ. Otherwise the Holy Spirit could not live in you. You are given the righteousness of Christ – so that the Holy Spirit can live in you – so that you can start growing in righteousness through the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit of God lives in you, your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

   C. The Spirit will also give life to your body (11)
      – Ezekiel 36:26-27

So, what about these old bodies of ours. Is there any hope for them? Look at verse 11: “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 through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11)

Notice the connection between Christ’s resurrection and ours. God raised Jesus from the dead. You have the Spirit of God living in you. Therefore, God will raise you from the dead also. This is the hope of every believer. Those who died with Christ will be raised with Christ.

Your body is mortal. It is still subject to sickness, sin and death. But God has given you new life in Christ through the Spirit. And that new life begins now. As God says in Ezekiel 36: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27) God gives us new spiritual life even now and new physical life at the resurrection.

When the Spirit of God lives in you: 1) You are controlled by the Spirit. 2) Your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 3) The Spirit will also give life to your body. That’s the difference the Holy Spirit makes in your life.

CONCLUSION: Is the Christian life hard? No, it’s not hard. It’s impossible! That is, it’s impossible to live on your own. Here is an important biblical truth. You cannot save yourself, and you cannot live the Christian life by yourself either. That’s good news, because God knows you could never live it by yourself, and that’s why he gives you the Holy Spirit.

Too many people try to please God through their own efforts. We fail again and again when we try to do things on our own. But God has given us the precious gift of the Holy Spirit so that we can be changed from the inside out.

The Holy Spirit makes all the difference. You have been given the greatest resource for living the Christian life, and that resource is always available to you because he lives in you.

So yes, you are still living in your old, earthly mortal body, but take heart! The Spirit of God lives in you as well. And through the Spirit you have been given the power of a new spiritual life. So, ask God every day to fill you with his Holy Spirit, to renew your mind and change you to be more like Jesus. Because that’s the only one way you can live a life that is pleasing to God – by living according to the Spirit.

© Ray Fowler

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