Now as you know, we are in the eighth chapter of Romans. Every decade or so I feel like I need to go back to Romans chapter 8 and make sure that the latest version of Grace Community Church is fully aware of all the blessed realities that are in this chapter; and we’re just getting started in the eighth chapter of Romans. Let me read for you the opening nine verses. That is where we’ll be looking this morning. We’ll not cover all of it, but you need to have it all in mind.
Romans 8, beginning at verse 1 through verse 9: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
Just to begin, you will notice again a reference in verse 3 to what the law could not do. “What the law could not do, God did, so that” – verse 4 – “the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” This causes us then to think initially as we look at this passage about the role of the law of God. The law of God, the Holy law of God, that which is a perfect reflection of His holy nature, has come in several stages into human experience.
First of all, before the fall. Before the fall and the perfection of the garden of Eden there was no sin. Adam was a pure reflection of the image of God, and so was Eve. There was no need for written law, there was no need for revealed law, because the law of God was written in the heart of Adam and Eve. Adam imitated God naturally. Adam did God’s will and only God’s will. Adam obeyed God’s law and only God’s law. God’s will and God’s law was the essential nature of his being because he was made in the image of God. His thinking was godly thinking and his behavior was godly behavior. God’s will ruled his mind, and so it ruled his behavior. Then came the fall. And after the fall man’s heart was dramatically changed. It was darkened by evil; and now only was sin was natural. He did not obey God’s law, he did not think about God’s law, because he had a fallen, sinful nature bent on disobedience.
So God began to write His law. From heaven He revealed His law and eventually pulled it all together in Exodus and laid it all out in summary fashion in the Ten Commandments. And God wrote His law not on the heart, but on stone. And it was not positive, it was not a positive force because the law had no power in the sinner’s life. It had no force on fallen human. In fact, it was just a lot of terrifying threats.
The law of God was full of judgments for disobedient thinking and disobedient behavior. And what dominated the heart of all humanity after the fall was sin. Sin was now natural. Sin dominated every heart. And not matter what God wished and what God willed and no matter what God demanded or commanded, obedience to God’s law was completely impossible to humanity. That’s what it says in verse 8, “No one can please God who’s in the flesh.”
The law in stone revealed the law of God, but all it did was reveal something impossible for men to keep. They had no will to keep it, they had no power to keep it, so the law in stone just crushed the sinner with guilt and judgment, the threat of divine wrath. The law, as a revelation of God’s will, had no power to bring about fellowship with God. The holy law of God by itself could provide no fellowship with God, because no one could keep that law, nor did they desire to. So that form of law couldn’t help at all the condition of men. In fact, there’s a sense in which the Ten Commandments on stone were as collapsible as the tabernacle.
So what was its purpose? Its purpose was to define sin and render to humanity the recognition that they were sinners. We find that in the sixth and seventh chapters of Romans. In Galatians we also find in chapter 3 that it was intended to be the tutor that led people to Christ, because if the law does nothing but damn you and condemn you, then in desperation you cry out for a redeemer, someone to rescue you from the curse of the law. So the law gave the knowledge of sin, the law demonstrated the inability of the sinner, and the law caused the sinner to cry out for a redeemer.
So the first time the law came it was written in Adam’s heart, and then it was in stone. The third time the law came in a unique way was in the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him the holy law of God was made visible in a human – divine, yes, but also truly human. The law was written on His heart, not in innocence as with Adam, but in perfection, eternal perfection. The Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
In contrast to those in the flesh who cannot please God, Jesus pleased God in every sense because the law of God was written in His heart, it was true to His own nature. “He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners,” says Hebrews 7:26. He was actually a far better example of the holy law of God than the law written in stone, or even the law written on parchments, because here you saw the full orbed, visible demonstration of holiness, perfect obedience to the law of God. He is therefore a clearer more understandable revelation of the law of God, and therefore the will of God and the character of God.
But as the law written in stone could not help anyone, so the law written in the heart of the Son of God and lived out in perfection could not help anyone either. In fact, His perfect life is as useless to save as is the law written in stone. Why? Because you cannot keep the law written in stone, but you certainly cannot live the holy life that the Son of God lived. In fact, His example of the law is more depressing, more disturbing. You hear people say from time to time, unwitting people say, “We need to live like Jesus.” Sure. In absolute holy perfection, I don’t think so.
We cannot keep the law written in stone; we certainly can’t keep the law written in the heart of Jesus and demonstrated in His holy perfection. He is a higher standard than the written law, and therefore He is more disturbing and He is more intimidating. The law that was written had been adjusted for the Jews, and Jesus said to them, “You have heard it said unto you,” and quoted the law as they had interpreted, and then He would say, “But I say unto you. But I say unto you. But I say unto you.” He was far more disturbing than the written law. As the living law He was so disturbing that they killed Him, they killed Him. But He was the perfection of the law lived in all its fullness.
There is a fourth way in which the law comes, and that’s in our text. When the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus sets a sinner free from the law of sin and death through the sacrifice and offering of Christ, the one who receives that salvation – according to verse 4 – is able to fulfill the requirement of the law. Verse 4 is a powerfully defining statement, “so that.” In other words, “Salvation so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” not just by us as if some external behavior, but in us. Why? Because we have been made new creations.
Go back to Jeremiah 31 where we are first introduced to the new covenant, and the definitive character of that new covenant, Jeremiah 31:31. Verse 31: “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make anew covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. That was the old covenant, the law. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
There’s coming a new covenant, and in the new covenant God writes the law on the heart. The law was written on the heart of Adam, the law was written on the heart of Christ. Adam, in innocence; Christ, in absolute divine perfection. And now again, the law is written on the heart of those who come under new covenant power and transformation.
Ezekiel also expresses the same marvelous reality. In Ezekiel chapter – well, it’s actually several places, but we’ll look at chapter 36 of Ezekiel as he speaks of the new covenant in the same or similar way. Chapter 36, verse 25: “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statute, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
When a person comes under new covenant power, they receive a new heart, a new spirit. They walk in obedience to the will of God and are careful to observe His ordinances. That is a statement of fact. That is a statement of fact.
Look back at verse 4: “The Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death through the sacrifice of Christ, so that the requirement of the of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” That is now a fact. That is a fact.
If you go back to chapter 6, verse 20, you see it stated in a different way. “You were slaves of sin, and you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” You were a slave of sin, you were freed from that. You became a slave of righteousness; you are now sanctified and headed for glory. These are statements of fact.
In 1 John chapter 2, just to add some Scripture that will enrich your understanding of this, chapter 2, verse 20: “True believers have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.” So you’re a true believer. You’ve been redeemed, reconciled to God, regenerated. You have been given by God an anointing that gives you knowledge. What is that? “I have not written to you” – verse 21 – “because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.”
If you are a true believer, you know the difference between lies and truth. You know the truth of God. You have been delivered, as Paul says in Romans, to that form of teaching, that schēma of teaching, that accords with the will of God and righteousness.
Down in verse 27 he says, “As for you, the anointing which you receive from Him” – that is from Christ – “abides in you.” Who is that then? The anointing is the Holy Spirit, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. If you are a true believer, you have a new heart, a new disposition, a new mind. Everything about you is new, and the Spirit of God has taken up residency in you, and the Spirit of God teaches you all things so that you know the truth, and you can see the difference between truth and error.
In the words of Paul in chapter 7, verse 22, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.” Down deep in my heart my new nature, my new creation loves the law of God, joyfully affirms the law of God. So the question then is now that I have been transformed, now that I have been justified and sanctified, the requirement of the law is being fulfilled in my life, because I now do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. That’s a fact.
You might be saying, “Well, am I going to make it? Am I going to be able to live the law I love? Am I going to be able to do that?” The Lord designed the Table that we’re going to come to a little bit later this morning as a point for us to examine our hearts and confess any sin before we partake of this so we don’t bring down divine discipline on our heads.
So we know about the spiritual battle, we talked about it a couple of weeks ago. “Will I be able to live the law I love? Will I be able to do what I want, because” – Paul says, verse 23 of chapter 7, “I see a different principle in the members of my body waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! I have a corpse tied to me, the body of death.”
“Will I make it? Will I be able to live the law I love?” Well yes, you will, because that’s your new nature. That’s more true to who you are than the way you used to live. Loving the law of God is the truest aspect of your new nature. That’s natural for you to love God, to love His Word, to love His law, to desire to obey. That’s the truest expression of who you are in Christ.
And the good word from heaven is this: you will be able to live the law you love. The good word from heaven is that you will never be condemned. And that’s how chapter 8 begins: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why? Because the Spirit has set them free from the law of sin and death. The Spirit of life has given them life, and with that new life comes the fulfillment of the law of God. You have been born of the Spirit so that you fulfill the law of God. Verse 4 then, look at it, “so that the requirement of the law is fulfilled in us from the heart.”
Salvation is not only righteousness imputed, it is righteousness imparted. Jesus Christ has become to you righteousness, justification, and sanctification, 1 Corinthians 1:30. The requirement of God’s holy law is fulfilled in you. It was fulfilled in Adam in innocence, it was fulfilled in Christ in perfection, it is fulfilled in us in imperfection. It’s not all we are, but it’s the truest of who we are. Salvation is a real transformation. We now walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh. Walk has to do with daily conduct. We live in the Spirit, we walk in the Spirit; there is no condemnation.
That is really good news. We cannot ever be taken out of this condition, this eternal condition of sanctification and put back under condemnation, because Christ has paid in full the penalty for all our sins already. And when you think about the wrath of God as described in chapter 1, verse 18 through chapter 3, verse 20, it’s a terrifying, terrifying wrath. This is a comforting word. If you’re in Christ, you will never be condemned. Jonathan Edwards said, “The wrath of God upon the wicked is as intense as His love upon the saints.” So we pass out of that intensity of wrath into the intensity of His love forever.
So the truth of the great declaration that opens this chapter is so incomprehensible that Paul states throughout the rest of the chapter how it can be true. “How can this be true? How can this be true that we will never be condemned when we struggle still with sin?” as we saw in chapter 7. “How can it be true?” Because we are defined as condemned, in chapters 1 to 3; we are shown that Christ has basically achieved our no condemnation status, in chapters 3 to 7; and now in chapter 8 we find that the Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to us.
Never will we be condemned, never, because the Holy Spirit does all these things for us. He gives us life. He frees us from sin and death. He enables us to fulfill the law. He changes our nature. He raises us to immortality. He empowers us for victory over temptation. He confirms our adoption. He guarantees our glory. He aids our prayers. He conforms us to Christ. He secures our everlasting glory. This whole chapter explains how the Spirit of God brings those who have been justified and sanctified to glory.
Now last time we talked about the first thing that He does. He gives us life, frees us from sin and death. But let’s look at that second one in verse 4, “so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” Listen to this: saving grace was given that the law might be fulfilled. Saving grace was given that the law might be fulfilled. This is not incidental. God wants a people who obey Him, who honor Him, who bring Him glory, by fulfilling His law. Saving grace was given that the law might be fulfilled. That great statement I borrowed from Augustine. Saving grace was given that the law might be fulfilled in your life, in mine here, and one day in perfection in glory. God is ultimately honored when He is obeyed, and you have been saved so as to fulfill His law for His glory. All things are for Him as well as through Him and by Him.
David Brainerd wrote that the law of God is nothing but a transcript of His holy character, and when we emulate that holy character, we give Him glory. When a soul is regenerated, the Spirit will produce in that soul then the fulfillment of the law of God to the glory of God.
F. F. Bruce wrote this in a summary paragraph that I think is helpful. “Christian holiness is not a matter of painstaking conformity to the individual precepts of an external law code. It is rather a question of the Holy Spirit producing His fruit in the life, reproducing those graces which were seen in perfection in the life of Christ. The law prescribed a life of holiness, but it was powerless to produce such a life because of the inadequacy of the human material that it had to work with. But what the law was powerless to do has been done by God. Now that God’s own Son, sent to earth in the likeness of sinful flesh, has given up His life as a sin offering on His people’s behalf, the death sentence has been passed on indwelling sin. It found no foothold in the life of Jesus, it was effectively overcome in His death, and the fruits of that victory are now made good to all who are in Him, so that the law then required a way of life, a way of conformity to the will of God that is now realized in the believer’s life through the power of the Holy Spirit.” A poet put it this way: “To run and work, the law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands. But better news the gospel brings, it bids me fly, then gives me wings.”
“As our Lord, by the Holy Spirit fulfilled all righteousness, so we by the Holy Spirit were saved unto good works,” – Ephesians 2:10 – “which God had ordained that we would do.” Titus chapter 2 and verse 14 says it this way: “He gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify a people for Himself for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” We were saved in order to fulfill the law of God. That’s what God intends us to do, that’s what we do in this world, and that’s how we let the light of the gospel shine. Others see those good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.
So we move from a condition of not having the power to keep the law which condemned us to having the power to keep the law and never be condemned. How is this possible? The answer is in this same text: because the Holy Spirit changes our nature. Go back to verse 4: “We do not walk according to the flesh.” That is not the pattern of our daily lives. That is not the normal disposition of our minds and our behavior. “We do not walk according to the flesh,” – the flesh means all that is corrupt and sinful – “but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; does not subject itself to the law of God. It is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
What has happened to us? We used to be in the flesh, now we’re in the Spirit. We used to mine the things of the flesh, now we mine the things of the Spirit. We used to walk in the flesh, now we walk in the Spirit. Everything has changed. Our minds have changed, our behaviors have changed, our affections have changed, because our nature has changed. “Once we were according to the flesh,” – verse 4 – “but now we are according to the Spirit. Once because we were according to the flesh, we set our minds on the things of the flesh. But now because we are according to the Spirit,” – verse 5 – “we set our minds on the things of the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”
God never divides people by culture. He doesn’t divide people by education and economics, race, sex. God divides people two ways: according to the flesh, according to the Spirit. Those are the two categories of humankind. God only recognizes the difference between those who are according to the flesh and those who are according to the Spirit. Those according to the flesh are headed toward eternal wrath, those who are according to the Spirit are headed to eternal glory.
What we’re talking about here is the dominating influence. The dominating influence of unconverted people is the flesh. It is dominated. It’s their nature. It’s how they think, it’s how they act, and it’s why they die. But believers have their nature changed so that they are according to the Spirit, and therefore they think on the things of the Spirit, they act on the things of the Spirit, and the end is life and peace. That is the pathology of human hearts.
And back to verse 5 for a moment. You can see the flow linking verses 4 and 5. In verse 4, it was, “Walk in the flesh, walk in the Spirit.” In verse 5, now we’ve gone to the mind. So we’ve moved from behavior back to thinking. The reason people walk that way is because they think that way. Behavior is stressed in verse 4, and now the thought stressed in verse 5 is that that’s because they think that way. They walk in the flesh behavior because they mind the things of the flesh thinking because they are according to the flesh nature.
On the other hand, believers walk in the Spirit because they mind the things of the Spirit because they are according to the Spirit. Your nature defines your thinking, your thinking defines your behavior. This is the flow of Paul’s thoughts. The ability to fulfill God’s law comes from proper thinking, which comes from a new nature regenerated by the Holy Spirit. That is a basic axiom, a fact. They that are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh. Those who are according to the Spirit the things of the Spirit. That is how it is. If you are without the Holy Spirit, you function totally in the flesh; that’s how you think and that’s how you act because that’s your nature. You are after the flesh, you are in the flesh, as it says down in verse 8, and that’s corrupted and leads to death.
Notice the phrase in verse 5, “set their minds.” This basically is the word phroneō, the noun form is phrēn. It doesn’t so much mean mind as it means disposition. It is a term used to describe the seat of all mental faculties and affections, all mental activity, including emotion, including will. The problem is the whole mind of an unregenerate person is basically corrupted by the flesh. It is not really the specific word for “mind”; that’s the word nous. You see that in 1 Corinthians 2:16 where it says, “We have the mind of Christ.” This is the word for “disposition.” This is the word for dominating, controlling influence.
Unbelievers have an internal, dominating, controlling, fleshly power that defines how they thing; and that defines how they act. And by the way, it is not a product of education, it is not a product of bad parenting, and it can’t be changed. It’s who they are. The bent of unconverted people is toward the flesh. That’s all they know. “They are the children of Satan,” John 8:44. He is a liar and a killer.
They are bent in that same direction. They are hateful toward God. Their affections are from the flesh. Their confidence is in the flesh. They do deeds of the flesh. They operate on the desires of the flesh. They trust the flesh. They worship the god of the flesh. That’s why John says, “They love the world and the love of the Father is not in them.”
In 2 Peter 2:9, Peter says, “They indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires. They indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires.” Philippians 3:19 describes them this way, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” That’s the pathology of a nonbeliever. Fleshly corruption, fleshly thinking, fleshly desires, fleshly emotions, fleshly attractions, fleshly affections, fleshly behavior leads to death. Like James 1 says, “When sin is conceived it brings forth death.”
But on the other hand, “Those who are of the Spirit,” – back to verse 5 – “mind the things of the Spirit.” If you’re a new creation, your life has a new bent. It has a new disposition, it has a new predominating influence. You are empowered by a new heart, a new Spirit – the Holy Spirit. You’re deepest longing is to demonstrate your love to God by obeying His Word. “If you love Me, you keep My commandments,” right? You have a completely new disposition. The disposition of the redeemed is to seek the things of the Spirit, because we mind of the Spirit, because we have a new nature created by the Holy Spirit. We have the mind of Christ.
The disposition which controls you is who you are. Sometimes those in the flesh can do something superficially good, but it doesn’t please God because it’s not for His glory. And certainly sometimes those of us who are in the Spirit do things that basically are a result of the temptation of the flesh. For the unbeliever, he cannot please God. For the believer, we can be displeasing to God, but the bent of our life is to love Him and keep His law.
It’s the dominating influence. That’s why John in 1 John lays out this same statement over and over again: “If you’re a true believer, you confess your sins. If you’re a true believer, you love. If you’re a true believer, you obey.” There’s no such thing as a person who is a believer, who has received salvation who is not walking in some measure in the Spirit; that’s a fact. We’re not walking always as we should, and we’re basically enjoined to walk more faithfully in Galatians 5, “Walk in the Spirit and you won’t be filled with lust of the flesh.” They’re still there, and that’s why Paul talks about the wretchedness of the battle. But the reality is that you’re going to be known, discernably known by the new nature manifesting itself in your thinking and revealing yourself in your behavior.
So, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourself whether you be in the faith.” So what are you looking for? Look all the way down to the disposition: What’s your disposition? How do you feel toward God. Do you love God? Do you love His Word? Do you love His church? Do you love His people? Do you love righteousness? Do you love obedience? Do you love the holy things? Even though you stumble and fall, are those the things that are the purest expression of your inward nature? Then you are literally in the Spirit.
And then look at the second level: What do you think about? What occupies your mind and your thoughts? Is it the desire to show love to the Lord, to think on things that are holy and righteous and good and noble?
And then look at your deeds, that’s the third test: Is the disposition of your life, the bent of your life, the direction of your life, the dominating force of your life going toward the path of righteousness with the same joy that Paul said he had back in chapter 7, verse 22? That’s the test.
You don’t start with your behavior, you start with your desires, your longings. You know you’re a true believer if you love what God loves and if you love God and you love whom God loves, and you love His law. Even though you don’t keep it as you should, which is your great grief, that’s an indication of the truest expression of your nature, when you are dissatisfied and grieved over your own disobedience.
If you’re a true believer, you are living according to the Spirit, minding the things of the Spirit, walking in the Spirit. It’s not everything it should be, but it is the disposition of your life. And you can say with Paul, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man. I walk in the Spirit because I mind the things of the Spirit. That’s my disposition, because I have a new heart, and the Spirit lives within me.”
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