Summary: Living by the dictates of the flesh are only going to get us to death row. If and when our lives are dictated by Christ, it becomes evident to all that we are walking in the Spirit. Are you?
Opening Illustration: A radical change is expected and required when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ. When no change becomes apparent, we begin to wonder if there has been a genuine conversion or if the one who was truly saved understands God’s Word concerning sanctification and discipleship. Charles Colson, in his excellent book, “Loving God,” entitles one of his chapters, “A Christian Gangster?” Gangster Mickey Cohen had made a profession of faith, and it was hoped that he had sincerely come to faith in Jesus Christ. Time evidenced that Mr. Cohen wanted to continue to live as a gangster with the assurance that he would go to heaven when he died. For a man like Cohen, genuine conversion to Christianity would require some radical changes in his mindset, motivation, and methods.
That change is both necessary and radical for anyone who comes to faith in Jesus Christ. The libertine extreme seeks to minimize the change which is required, wanting to avoid any rules or commands. They want to speak only of grace and not of righteousness or God’s Law. They want to continue to live in sin just as they did as unbelievers.
Introduction: In our passage for study, Paul first reminds us that we are free from the condemnation of sin and the oppression of the law. He then goes on to explain that we may now choose to live either a natural, or spiritual life. We may strive to live the Christian life by obedience to the law and end up controlled by sin and at enmity with God, or by faith in Christ, be led by the Spirit and find ourselves at peace with God.
Paul gives his readers no specific commands. He lays down no rules. After all, the Law has set the standard. Those things which Paul will lay down as specific applications find their biblical basis in the Law (see Romans 13:8-10). Instead, he speaks of the Christian’s obligations. Paul’s words in verse 12 inform us that we have no obligation to serve the flesh and strongly imply that we do have an obligation to serve God in the Spirit. This reiterates what he has already taught in verse 4 and explained in verses 5-11: We shall fulfill the requirement of the Law when we walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.
How can we (continue to) Walk in the Spirit?
1. ABIDE in Christ (Who fulfills the righteous requirement of the law) vs. 1-4
“Not guilty; let him go free” – what would these words mean to you if you were on death row? The fact is that the whole human race is on death row, justly condemned for repeatedly breaking God’s holy law. Without Jesus we would have no hope at all. But thank God! He has declared us not guilty and has offered us freedom from sin and power to do His will.
Paul is getting to the point that if we are not in Christ, we are against Him and hostile to God. If our life revolves around agreeing and pleasing our flesh, we just cannot please God. Christ life is subject to walking in the Spirit so that the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are manifested. Paul doesn’t use the word flesh (sarx) in the context of flesh and blood but literally. The Spirit prevails over our fleshly desires when we abide in Christ. The earthly nature is subdued by the intervention of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
To abide in Christ is to live a life dominated by the dictates and the love of God. Here Paul thinks of life that a man dominated by the flesh, the sarx, lives he is not by any means thinking exclusively of sexual and bodily sins. He is not thinking altogether of what we call fleshly sins. The flesh to Paul was human nature in all its sin and weakness, and impotence and frustration; the flesh is all that man is without God and without Christ.
So Paul says here that there was a time when the Christian, before he was a Christian, was at the mercy of his own sinful nature. In that state the law simply became something that moved him to sin, and in that state he went from bad to worse, defeated and frustrated man. But, when became a Christian, into his life there came the surging power of the Spirit of God, and, because in his life there was now a power that was not his power, he entered into victorious living instead if defeated existence.
In Romans 6, Paul tells us that righteousness is required of those who have been justified by faith. Those who have died to sin must no longer continue to live in sin. They must no longer present their bodies to sin, but must present their bodies to God as instruments of righteousness. Paul shares in Romans 7 from his own experience as he shows that living a righteous life is humanly impossible. The Law is not the problem, for the “Law is holy, righteous, and good.” The problem is the weakness of our flesh. Unaided by God, the best a Christian can do is to serve God with his mind but to serve sin with his flesh. Great agony over this condition causes the Christian to cry out to God who alone can deliver him from the body which is dead with respect to achieving righteousness. There the role of Christ is so important that we have to abide with Him to be able to walk in the Spirit.