The apostle Paul has already given us in this 8th chapter of his Epistle to the Romans the “charter” or fundamental truth of the new life in Christ – Salvation. Without this, of course, everything else would be in vain, for the wrath of God would abide upon us sinners still. But God has agreed to justify freely by His grace those who truly believe on Jesus Christ His Son. They will go free at His judgement seat. They will inherit His kingdom. Or, as Paul puts it here, there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. This is fundamental: but having laid this down, Paul has gone on to tell us something of the “principle,” or “law” of the new life which has the same contents as the law of God has always had, namely, to love Him above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves; but our relationship to these requirements has changed. Formerly – apart from faith in Jesus Christ – we were totally unable to do these things and were condemned to death for our failure. Hence it was a law of sin and death to us. But now in Christ who has redeemed us and given us His Holy Spirit to live and to dwell within us, not only is the threat removed, but the resentful and rebellious nature has been dealt with and curbed within us so that, as Paul says, the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us.
Now twice in the course of describing us who believe in Christ truly, and therefore have this new life to live, he has spoken to us as those who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; and accordingly, in the next few verses, five through eight to be exact, he elaborates on this somewhat and states for us what I would like to call today – THE ALTERNATIVES OF THE NEW LIFE.
Listen to his words:
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
- The first alternative of the new life in Christ which Paul states here has to do with the overall direction of our existence: either the flesh or the spirit. “For they that are after the flesh,” he says, “do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.”
For a long, long time now it has been fashionable to speak of our world as “one world” in spite of all the friction and even wars and rumors of wars that characterize it. Our poets – and others who dream dreams among us – like to think of “one great brotherhood of love throughout the whole wide world,” and of things like that: but Almighty God, speaks in His faithful Word, the Bible, always reminds us that there are really two worlds still. The division does not run along the lines of historical development, like the “old world” of Europe and the “new world” of America and the “third world” of all the other, somewhat neglected peoples of our earth. Nor does it run along racial lines – black or white or yellow. Nor is it political division – the Communist world versus the free world. Nor is it really a religious division in the more common, superficial use of the term but it is a division that is based on men’s relationship to Him and to His saving grace in Christ the Lord.
This twofold division has existed since the dawn of history: from Cain and Abel, and from the ungodly line of Cain and the godly line of Seth who took his murdered brother’s place. In the election of Israel to be God’s people, and not any other nation it came to the core once again. And within the people of Israel itself there existed generation after generation the distinction and difference between the righteous whose way God knoweth, and the ungodly, whose way shall surely perish. Christ also taught this division – though on a wider scale. He spoke of those who came to Him and those who would not come, of those who believed on Him and those who refused to believe, and of those who took the narrow way that leadeth unto life and those who persisted in following the broad way that leadeth to destruction: and He even put it in terms of the same alternative that we hear in our text to day in John 3:16, for example, where He says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” and again in John 6:63, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” And our apostle, Paul, has already employed this particular distinction in one of his earlier letters, Galatians , chapter 5, where he writes, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh,” and more in the same vein.
We ought not to be surprised, therefore, to find it here again – this division of men into two categories and the alternative stated in terms of flesh or spirit. It is a thoroughly Biblical thought. We need only to ask: who are they that are after the flesh? And who are they that are after the Spirit?
Notice here, that he does not speak of them that are “in” the flesh – for that would be all of us without distinction. Even Christ during His early sojourn could be so described – in fact, He call still be so described for He has taken His human body of flesh, now glorified, into heaven with Him, as we shall be reminded once again on Ascension Day. But this is something else again: it is “they that are after the flesh” of whom he writes.
Now we sometimes ask of a person: “What is he really after?” – and we mean by that to inquire about the overall direction of that person’s actions, his motivation, or his goals: and so it is here. “They that are after the flesh” and all those human beings whose lives are lived with any lesser ambition than to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. They are shut up to the resources of their fallen natures alone. They have not Christ as Savior – hence they are strangers to His covenant mercies and promises, aliens from His Church, without God and without hope in the world, the general run of fallen man.
All those are included, of course, who live wicked, lawless lives. But they, too, fall into this category who live “good lives” – in the common sense of the word and in the estimation of their neighbors – and yet are not reconciled to God.
Yes, even they are “after the flesh” who profess religion of a sort, but have not been born again of the Spirit of God and have, therefore, no personal saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, our only God and Savior! The goals of all these people must ultimately be worldly goals: for if they truly sought the kingdom of God, they would come to Christ to receive it.
Their walk, or the general tenor of their lives, must be a fleshy walk – for if they do not obey God in the one thing needful, Christ, how can they really claim to obey Him in any other respect? And the sum total of their lives – in spite of many individual exceptions who may, without understanding, be trying to stem the tide – is the kind of life we see today in the world: amoral, violent and godless, crying out to high heaven for judgement of destruction. And over against these Paul places them “that are after the Spirit”.
By grace through faith they have received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord – and with Him also His promised Holy Spirit. In the exercise of faith they do mind the things of the Spirit. And in the power of the Spirit they walk, “after Him,” as God desires.
2. But now, lest we suppose, as so many do today, that this first alternative is merely a matter of taste and individual interest, like playing golf or not playing golf, or liking to do handwork and not liking to do handwork, or any of hundreds of other things to which people may devote a portion of their time and even money: Paul now presents a second alternative of the new life in Christ, one that has to do, I believe, with our condition right now – and he states it in terms of death or life, verse 6, “for to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
To be carnally minded, of course, is not different than to mind the things of the flesh, which is the overall direction and characteristic of those who are after the flesh, as he has already said. The English language is peculiar in this respect, that in certain instances it tends to substitute a word of Latin origin for one of Anglo-Saxon origin: and here is a good example. “Flesh” is an old English word that we have in common with all the Teutonic tongues; but when we come to make an adjective of it in the figurative, and non-physical sense, we turn to the Latin and say not “fleshy” or “fleshly” which sound rather physical than psychical, but “carnal,” which only means “pertaining to the flesh” in this freer way that we have been using it. So what he is saying here is simply this: that those who are after the flesh and do ming the things of the flesh and walk after it, are somehow involved with death; while those who are after the Spirit are somehow involved with life and peace.
I say “somehow” here advisedly. There are two ways of looking at the matter. Paul could mean here that the carnally minded will be punished with death – temporal and eternal – while the Spiritually minded will be rewarded with life and peace forever; and that would be true, of course, and it is a most serious and important consideration, one that shows us that we are not after all dealing with a matter of indifference here at all. Or he could mean that the carnally minded are already dead now, and the Spiritually minded have life and peace now – and I believe that the second of these possibilities is preferable, and it is a fully Biblical way of looking at it. Only think of what he says in Ephesians two about this: “You hath He quickened (or given life) who were dead in trespasses and sins, wherein in time past ye walked…” etc. How vivid, then, this second alternative of the Christian life becomes!
The carnally minded are a busy tribe, to be sure. They eat and drink, they buy and sell, they marry and are given in marriage, they plot and they dream – thinking that they are alive, and that this is all the life there is: and indeed so it would seem.
Yet when they stop to take stock of themselves, as some of them sometimes do, they are prone to ask – what is it all about, and what is it for? They complain of life’s futility. They are often a bundle of neurosis, and filled with fear, and even their religion gives them no lasting joy or satisfaction. And why? Because they are dead – dead to God and to the love and light and life which come from Him. But the Spiritually minded live! Not just physically, but in a new way and by the Holy Spirit who dwells within them: and the results of His work appear in some measure at least in the lives: Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Here is an alternative that cannot be over-looked… our present condition whether we are dead or alive… today!
3. Why should there be such a difference? Why are the carnally minded dead in reality right now: and why have the spiritually minded come alive? Paul goes on to explain this as a matter of relationship in verse 7 and gives us, in so doing, yet a third alternative of the new life in Christ – enmity or subjection to God! “Because the carnal mind,” he says, “is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” This does not mean, of course, that all of those who are “after the flesh” are atheists – although they surely are. No, some of them may even think of themselves as “religious,” and some may even be active participants in some religious work or other: but their common characteristic, whatever their profession may be, is this: at heart, they are not subject to the law of God, not can they be! Instead, they are fighting God somewhere, at some point.
It may be at the point of doctrine. Many, for example, refuse to believe God’s own estimate of our fallen human nature: that all have sinned, and that all come short of the glory of God, including all of us. Others cannot bear to believe in His just judgement: that sin is punished with death in time and eternity alike. Some cannot accept His testimony concerning His Son: and even more will not go along with the teaching that He died in our place in order that we, through faith in Him, might never die. Or it may be at the point of trust and obedience that we are fighting God. We may believe the doctrine but refuse to take it for ourselves. Or we may yield a part of ourselves to God: and still hold back here or there, and say in essence, No – in this I must have my own way after all. This is enmity to God. This is the carnal mind. The Spiritual mind has made its peace with God through Jesus Christ. It is not yet perfect peace, of course. The United States and Canada have been living at peace with each other across a common border for ages. There is still quite a bit of friction between the two nations at times – some jealousy, some hard feelings. Yet the peace between us is real and will not be broken because there is not the slightest desire on either side to break it: we are brothers of one background, of one way of life today, and of one outlook in spite of all differences after all. So our peace with God – or our subjection to Him – is not without its problems, yes, they come up daily. But one Spirit dwells in Him and in us if we are His – and so there will be no break. We will live in Him, for we are after His Spirit still!
4. And this brings us to the fourth alternative of the new life in Christ, and the one that speaks most directly of the application to us: the matter of not pleasing God. Listen to verse 8, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God,” and the rest may be understood or supplied – while they are in the Spirit do! What, after all, is our basic responsibility in life? To whom must we answer? To men? To history? To a degree, yes – but ultimately to God! We must all appear at His judgement seat to give account. How shall we then live and please Him? Can He be pleased with them that are after the flesh? They are dead to Him even whilst they live, and they are fighting Him at every turn. Will they have His favor? Will they stand in His judgment? Will He not rather be pleased with those who are after His Spirit, and living in that Spirit bring forth fruits, submitting themselves with willing hearts unto His law?
How can a man be after the Spirit of God? We shall see this in greater detail next time: but this much I will say now: are you subject to God, that is, have you thrown yourself down before Him and by grace received His salvation in Christ as a gift – and are you seeking to live out the practical implications of that surrender of God? That’s the heart of it – for you must die unto self to live unto God, but remember: those who live unto God shall never die!
Sermon written by: Rev. Charles W. Krahe, Seventh Reformed Church