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In Romans 8:1-14 Paul seeks to confront us with the same flesh/Spirit contrast with which Jesus Christ confronted Nicodemus [John 3] and the Samaritan woman [John 4]. It is critical to realise that Paul is not, as many assume and teach, making a distinction between ‘spiritual’ believers and ‘carnal’ believers. He is contrasting believers and unbelievers, the saved and the unsaved.

Left to ourselves [that is, in our natural, flesh-only, unsaved, state]:

We are under ‘the law of sin and death’ and are, by that law, condemned [8:1-4].

We live for our own human agenda [8:5].

Our mindset is death [8:6].

We are hostile to God and neither willing nor able to submit to God’s law [8:7].

We cannot please God [8:8].

We are in the flesh [8:9] (not ‘controlled by the flesh’ as some translations read).

The Spirit of God does not live in us [8:9].

We do not belong to God [8:10].

[By inference] are in a state of ‘death’ [8:10-11].

In clear distinction from this, those in and upon whom the Spirit has done his saving work:

Have been removed forever from condemnation [8:1].

Have been set free from the law of sin and death by the life-giving work of the Spirit uniting us to Christ [8:1-2].

Have been credited with the perfect righteousness of Christ [8:3-4].

Are identified with the agenda of the Spirit [8:5].

Have the mindset of life and peace [8:6].

[By inference] are reconciled to God and please God [8:7-8].

Are in the Spirit [8:9] (not ‘controlled by the Spirit’ as some translations read).

Are indwelt by the Spirit [8:9] and thereby identified as belonging to Christ.

Are identified with the sin-bearing death and life-giving resurrection of Christ [8:10-11].

All of this amazing change is attributed to the saving work of the Holy Spirit.

Further, it is only ‘by the Spirit’ that we have abandoned our ego-centric, flesh-based belief that we have the ability to gain and maintain God’s acceptance on the basis of our human performance; it is only by the Spirit that we have been led to recognize and accept the grace-driven salvation provided by God in Christ [8:12-14]. By the Spirit we have thus ‘put to death’ the deeds of ‘the flesh’, counting them, as Paul did in Philippians 3, as less than nothing, even though he had previously boasted about them as the means of his perceived acceptance with God.

Note: In Romans 8:1-14 it is imperative that we cast aside the mistranslation of sarks as ‘sinful nature’. The word simply means ‘flesh’. (The word 'sinful' is not in the Greek text.) Sarks refers to what we are in ourselves – whether ‘good’, as the Pharisees assumed themselves to be, or obviously bad; it refers to what we are apart from Christ; it refers to our relating to God on the basis of our own actions and our own identity. We must also note what where the NIV reads ‘misdeeds’ in verse 13 the Greek text has praxis – which means simply ‘deeds’ or ‘works’. Neither the word sarks nor the word praxis has any intrinsic reference to sin.

Thus it is the Spirit of God who breaks through and demolishes our focus on our own ability or inability, and in doing so, does for us what we ourselves could never do – sets us free from all condemnation through the death and resurrection of Christ, uniting us to Christ, and bringing us safe into the family of God where there is life and peace.

Summing up the role of the Spirit in our salvation that we have looked at in the past few meditations: The New Testament clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit has an essential and indispensable role in our salvation. The Holy Spirit is not an add-on to the Gospel, nor a second or higher step to which we ascend beyond the Gospel and in addition to Christ; rather the Holy Spirit works in unity of will and purpose with the Father and Son to bring us to salvation in and through Jesus Christ. Just as salvation is not possible apart from Christ so salvation is not possible apart from the Holy Spirit.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2024