I came to know Wendell Berry at the wrong time in my life. My husband and I, with three children in tow, had just barely ... Read More
In parts one and two we found our identity to not be “sin”; rather, when we sin it is no longer “I”. We found that human effort – making the flesh our strength, rather than Christ – is the very cause of sin. And that God, who is love, and the sole source of other-centered love in the universe, created us to be indwelt and to live in a oneness, a willing co-operation with Him. Romans six speaks of the reality of who we are in Christ – dead to sin, alive to God, that we died with Him and were raised with Him to walk in newness of life. Six briefly introduces the thought that it is Law that gives sin power over us, Law being the human-trying-to-be-righteous-by-it’s-own-strength principle. Seven expands on this Law principle, showing us that flesh striving creates a hamster wheel of try-sin-repent that is endless until we step off it and recognize that “when I sin it is no longer I that sins, but sin which dwelleth in me.” Sin is not essentially “I”. We find that it is by the human self trying by will-power to be the new man that we do what we hate, and don’t do what we desire, and that the new man is that in us which deeply desires to be and do everything that God has for us.
That’s the summary – a few of the mind altering facts of Romans six and seven. How, then, do we go on to Spirit-driven, rather than Law/flesh driven life?
At the end of seven Paul makes a statement; “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” He again states that the real Paul is the one that serves the law of God; he accords himself with that holy desire within himself, and states that it is with the mind that he serves the Law of God.
How then to serve God’s Law with the mind, rather than striving by flesh-effort to live up to the Law and failing – instead serving the law of sin?
One of the keys is found later in Romans 11 and 12. At the end of 11 Paul goes on into a reverie about God: O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who hath first given to Him, so as to receive payment in return? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
All things are of the Lord. All. Wisdom. Knowledge. Power. Holiness. Love. Compassion. Kindness. Purity. All things. If He’s the source of all goodness, how much goodness can come from my human effort?
After these reverent statements of praise Paul says this:
I beseech you therefore, brethren (because God is and has everything), by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.
This mind transformation, this renewal, is a major key to walking in the Spirit.
Let’s go back to Romans eight.
There’s no condemnation to those who are in Christ. Hebrews says if the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins, the worshipers would have had no more conscience of sins. They wouldn’t live in sin-consciousness.
To truly trust in Christ and His atoning Blood means we shun the condemnation of the devil. We shut the door on it forever and refuse to live in a sin-consciousness (which all comes from fear and unbelief, which of course is the wellspring of sin). The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus – the inner, living Law, Christ Himself – has set me free from the Law of sin and death. The outer Law, the written code, fulfilled in Christ, is something we have died to and no longer have to strive in effort to keep, because Christ Himself, better than the old covenant, is now in us.
The outer Law could not make us righteous; in fact, it did the opposite. It not only showed us our sins, reminded us of our sins, but it actually was a handle for Satan to use to make us sin more.
God sent His own Son as a man who lived by faith in the Holy Spirit. This perfect Redeemer died as a sinner; we were all put in Him on the Cross, and that Ephesians 2:2 spirit with which we were infected, “the prince of the power of the air that works in the children of disobedience,” that great big me-for-me spirit which was in us and drove us, was put in the body of Jesus Christ through our co-ness with Him. Jesus became sin for us. He didn’t just pay our sin-debt. He became sin. And why did Jesus become sin for us? Romans 8:4 tells us why:
That the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. That’s the reason for God the Father and Jesus Christ going through all that – to call out a people indwelt and in willing co-operation with the Holy Spirit.
Paul goes on:
When we give our attention to the physical, we are controlled by the physical. If we give our attention to the Spirit, the Eternal, the Real, we are controlled by the Spirit, motivated by the Real. A branch can bear no fruit by its own effort; it’s a dead branch unless it abides; if it thinks it can be its own source it will die. The interests of the flesh-life are hostile to God. The flesh – the soul/body – wants comfort, ease for itself; God wants to use the whole man in service to others, in countless dyings and risings to “What my flesh wants,” even unto physical death if necessary.
The flesh itself is merely a means, a container, a cup. It is not meant to drive. A well-trained horse is under the direction of its rider, and response to every whisper of a command. In that, it becomes useful, and is in willing cooperation – through faith in the rider.
Paul then says that those who are in the flesh – not “following” or “after” the flesh, but in the flesh – cannot please God. He then defines those who are “in the flesh” – in other words, completely given over to their fleshly desires – those who do not have the Spirit of Christ. They cannot have faith in Jesus Christ, and apart from faith it is impossible to please God. And the Hebrews writer reiterates that for the believer, Christ is in us, that although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness, and it will direct our body and give life to it.
So – we are debtors to the Spirit, not to the flesh. Through the Spirit – that is, through faith, reliance on God, on what He says about who we are in Christ – we put to death the deeds of the body, all that misuse of our bodies and souls that formerly ran and drove our existence. We abjure fleshly effort, false religious holiness and labor the labor of faith to enter His rest. We fight a great fight of afflictions against the Devil, who will say, “You aren’t holy. Look what you just did. You aren’t one with Christ. How could you have said that?” and all the million monotonous, boring, lame arguments against the Word of God. Interpret reality by your experience. Interpret the Word by your performance. That’s Satan’s smoke and mirrors.
The Word says what it says. We’re under new Management.
As we trust in this indwelling Power, He flows. I’m a king. I’m holy. I’m one Spirit with the Lord. Christ Himself is my life. He is the Shekinah in this earthen temple. I am bought with a price. I am washed, cleansed, a vessel unto honor. I am a light bulb and He’s the electricity. And as we accord ourselves in faith with what He says, the lights come on.
This trusting is a moment-by-moment choice. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God (teknos – full grown sons. In other words, mature). This is what the Lord says: Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; it’s leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit (Jeremiah 17:5-8).
Two trees. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Do-it-yourself holiness, Romans seven, dependence on one’s own strength, resulting in a parched landscape, a salt land where no one lives. Loneliness. Desperation. He won’t see any prosperity when it does come; he’ll be too busy condemning himself for being a dry tree. The second Tree – the Tree of Life. Christ. Reliance on Him. Outer circumstances won’t matter; this Tree can take the heat and drought because it has deep roots by the stream. It never fails to bear fruit.
Reliance on Christ, renewing our minds as to our new identity in Christ, is a major key in the struggle. And as we’ll see later in Romans 8, the recognition of God’s love and power is a major player in the spiritual battle
Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.