According to the Spirit
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 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. 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. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 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. 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. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 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. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 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.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 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.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 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.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 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.
These days it can sometimes feel like we are bombarded with bad news. It seems to be having changing how people relate to each other. And it’s not good. Human beings have a desire to connect with each other in meaningful ways. That’s a good impulse. It can bring us out of our shell and help us to be open to new experiences. This is how we grow and develop as people.
But we have other impulses—like the one toward self-preservation. We may think we can stay safe if we avoid all danger. But the truth is, we find ourselves isolated and at greater risk than we would be if we were out there connecting. It’s no good to be all alone with trouble comes.
So this is a kind of principle in life. Sometimes our instincts lead us astray. If that’s how we have survived to this point, we may need to learn new spiritual principles that can guide us to the next level in life.
So we come to this passage. In some ways it reminds me of an old testament passage.
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
It’s about how the choices we make help determine the outcome of our lives. Sometimes there really is a choice between life and death. It can be physical life and death. It can be spiritual life and death. It can be both. Sometimes it takes a near death experience to shake us up and bring life into focus. We realize life is fragile and we need to give attention to eternal things.
Life and Death
Life and Death
Sometimes spiritual death—a sense of emptiness, separation from God and others grabs our attention. We realize that the spiritual realm isn’t just made up. There are darker forces that can overtake us. So maybe there’s something more that can protect and nurture us. So we begin to look into it.
Whatever the reason we consider this, it’s important that we do because how we handle these issues will in many ways determine the very course of our lives. Life and Death cannot be ignored.
So Paul has just been writings about how the struggle is so real when we learn the rules and seek to live by them. We quickly come to the end of our human ability. Our culture acts like all we need is more information. But information without the formation is of little value. This is why grad students are sometimes annoying. They know a lot of information. But sometimes their lack of life experience affects how they apply what they have learned. We need to be formed into a way of life before knowledge becomes wisdom. Making that kind of change doesn’t happen easily. The try harder method only gets us so far. In chapter 7 you can read how successful Paul was at self-help change efforts. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work! Real change calls for real power. Trusting in human ability won’t cut it.
So Paul begins to introduce some terms here. Once we understand these terms, so much of life comes into clearer focus. Until we understand them, we may bang our heads against the wall over and over again. Ready to discover these terms?
Flesh and Spirit. Let’s say that together. The two are in conflict with each other. But this is not saying Body vs Spirit.
Body vs Spirit would be gnosticism- the belief in a rigid dualism that matter is evil and Spirit is good. That’s not what either the Old Testament or New Testament teach us. God called creation “good”. So it’s not matter that is evil. It’s what you do with matter that matters. It’s not Body vs Spirit either. Other philosophies said the body was evil and we could never achieve holiness in this life in the body. But Paul is saying the opposite here. So life “According to the Flesh” is something different.
ἵνα τὸ δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου πληρωθῇ ἐν ἡμῖν τοῖς μὴ κατὰ σάρκα περιπατοῦσιν ἀλλὰ κατὰ πνεῦμα
Let’s say that: Kata Sarx. Now you know some New Testament Greek! Kata sarx is not about life in the body. It’s about living a life that RELIES on the flesh for meaning and motivation. It’s pleasurable to eat or to exercise or even to just take a nap. There’s nothing wrong with experiencing that pleasure. But if you LIVE for it it becomes an unhealthy obsession. Keeping that obsession as the motivation for life choices is living life KATA SARX. You don’t just eat to live you live to eat. Now we tend to think only heavier people do this, but it’s just not true. Some people just burn a lot more calories but eat in a rather gluttonous manner. So try not to judge a book by it’s cover in this regard. A more subtle example would be: in facing big decisions you rely on your knowledge and experience instead of praying or following biblical guidance.
If you’ve never become a full follower of Jesus, you’ve never been saved, then this is the only life you know. Maybe you don’t live to eat, but generally you rely on human wisdom and experience to guide your life. But God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is offering you more in life.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, but you haven’t gone on to be filled with the Spirit you can fall back into this type of pattern easily. Life Kata Sarx, according to the Flesh comes naturally but doesn’t lead to spiritual victory.
Even if you’re a spirit-filled believer but you forget the process God has been teaching you and fall back into old patterns in times of stress or confusion, you won’t experience victory either. Being filled with the Spirit isn’t magical or robotic. Maintenance is required. Kata Sarx is living below what’s possible.
But we believe in the Radical Optimism of Grace. (slide here)
That means God can help us to live differently. We believe God can and will transform every fully-surrendered life in community. We can leave behind Kata Sarx and experience Kata Pnuema.
Let’s say this one together: Kata Pneuma. Now you know a little more New Testament Greek. Kata Pneuma is living life according to the Spirit. This means relying on the Holy Spirit for meaning and motivation in life. We come to depend on the Holy Spirit. So our first move is to pray. We listen. We obey. We have the strength to obey because we ask for it and work with it. We cooperate with Grace by reading the Bible, praying, gathering with believers and making it to worship unless providentially hindered. But the power for living comes from God through the ministry and presence of the Holy Spirit.
So to tap into this kind of living we begin by coming to Jesus on His terms:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
If you’re following Jesus, begin trying to rely on God fully for daily living. You will find upper limits. You will come to the place where you think you need more of God. That’s a natural move. That’s when it’s time to really let go of anything you find yourself holding back. You begin to reach out for more. Commit yourself fully. People call that consecrating yourself to God.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Then God comes and fills us deeply. But the truth is we don’t actually get more of God. God doesn’t hold out on us. Instead God finally gets all of us. It’s awesome. It’s called entire sanctification because sanctification is finally happening in every area of life. It’s still a process. Your heart is made pure, your life is filled with perfect love. But a holy character still has to be developed.
But like I said it’s not magical.It’s like any important relationship. You have to feed and care for it. We all have our weak areas. But when we are weak, he is strong. So we can make progress with God’s help.
But still every day and in every season of life we still have an obligation.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
That’s our part. Choosing where we will lean for strength. Choosing to pray first. Choosing to trust God. God’s part is to provide new power.
because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 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.
Old timers used to say: the arm of flesh will fail you. So lean on the Spirit.
I don’t know where you’re at today. But I know God loves you. I know God is inviting you into a challenging but fulfilling life.
When I was a teenager this was all a bit of a mystery to me. Some well-meaning people put pressure on me to go do something I was afraid to do. It really affected me. I started to think the Christian life wasn’t for me. I was feeling so much pressure it just seemed like life with God was only unpleasant and controlling. I lost my motivation. So I fell back into normal teen interests. I wanted to meet girls so I did everything I could to do so. One day on the golf course I noticed a very beautiful girl who happened to be the sister of a girl I knew from band and Jazz Band. I had good grades. I was first chair alto sax in band, played bari sax in Jazz Band and was in the Show Choir band. So I finally got her attention and gave her a ride home from show choir practice. She was one classy and beautiful young woman. Clearly I was out of my league. But she didn’t seem to notice and was actually interested in me. That was intoxicating to say the least. So I sort of thought I had my replacement for God. An amazing young woman.
Trouble was God cared deeply about both of us. Before I met Ellen she was seeking God. She kept bringing up spiritual questions. I knew the answer to many of these things but was trying hard to forget them as fast as I could. But her sincere seeking got to me. I sort of glared at God like, really? God just stared back. Did you think it was going to be that easy to get away from me? She loves you. But she also loves me. You used to truly love me, too. I never stopped loving you. The love that she has for you comes from me. Don’t deny her the best of what you know about me. I was like: God if I admit what I know she’ll think I’m a Jesus freak and drop me like a hot potato. God was like Oh, you mean like you dropped me? Ouch. So you want to keep her in the dark so you can have her for yourself and miss out on all the blessings of my love for both of you? When I saw my selfishness for what it was in that moment, the power of relying on the flesh just evaporated.
For the first time in my life I surrendered. I took a risk. I said to Ellen, to find the answers you’re looking for I know what we need to do. But our lives will change. God will be in charge. Is that what you want? Tears were streaming down her face: like nothing else in the world, she said. So we prayed a prayer. For Ellen it was knowing God personally for the very first time. It was the end of one era and the beginning of a new one that would become the rest of our lives. Being lead by fear or doubt or self-reliance on my God-given abilities, gave way to a surrendered life that could be led by the Spirit.
I was lost I was in chains The world had a hold of me
My heart was a stone I was covered in shame When He came for me
I couldn't run, couldn't run from His presence I couldn't run, couldn't run from His arms
Deep down it was about life in the Spirit but the core issue for me was trusting that Jesus did love me. He didn’t put a lot of pressure on me. He put an amazing woman in my life. He invited me to truly follow. Within a few weeks I was answering a call to preach and teach.
Jesus, he loves me, he loves me, he is for me. Jesus how can it be? He loves me. He is for me...
It doesn’t mean Jesus is an indulgent father. It doesn’t mean his call is for anything other than complete surrender. It’s just based on his love and desire to pour more good things into your life. The Holy Spirit makes all of that possible. Kata pnuema is where it’s at. So open the door to all that God has for you. Stop leaning only on human wisdom. If you’ve never been saved, don’t leave today without confessing and committing to follow Jesus. If you’re saved but never been filled with the Spirit, begin seeking now to surrender all and let sanctifying grace into every area of your life. If none of it is new to you, but you’ve fallen back into relying on the arm of flesh, find the power of the Spirit anew and afresh today.