Gordon E. Johnson


The Spirit Filled Walk Now Underway – What Does It Look Like?

Romans 8: 1-4

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute

A Fuller Perspective on the Walk of Faith

Paul in Romans 8:1 has almost completed his survey of the Christian life as it should be lived. He asked the question: Does the Christian have to sin, to yield to the old adamic nature? (Rom. 6: 1). He answered it sharply -- Never. He has given the reason: we died to the First Adam and have been raised to walk in newness of life in the last Adam, Christ.  This glorious fact must now be learned and lived by faith. God's work was done at the cross (6: 6), but ours is to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (6: 11); to not let sin reign (6: 12); to not go on yielding to the inertia of the old but rather to present our will and our members to Christ as instruments of righteousness (6: 13). The glorious result is that the sin principle will not reign (6:14).  The sin principle is present but disarmed and annulled.

But one further truth must be grasped. We died to the law, that is, our best self effort. We are "married to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead that we should bear fruit unto God".(Rom. 7:4) This truth Paul did not fully grasp on a past occasion but rather turned to his best intentioned self effort. To Paul's great dismay his «doctrine» did not actually work. His best efforts soon turned into a deeper sense of his sinfulness (7: 13), to the conclusion that no good thing dwelt in him (7:18) and finally to utter desperation: "O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?" (7: 24)

But as quickly as he gave up on his best self effort, the liberating truth of his union with Christ filled him with gratitude: "I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord". (7: 25) This release of the faith principle (6: 11) results in: "There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus our Lord." (8: 1) Paul now gives the reason for his new found freedom: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death". (8: 2) The Holy Spirit who indwells the believer now becomes himself the dynamic of holiness or sanctification. What Paul's best self effort could never do, the Spirit accomplishes immediately on the basis of Christ's work on the cross. THIS IS THE MESSAGE OF THE CROSS.  "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me". (Gal. 2: 20)

Now the Christian Life --Christ In Me --Begins    Romans 8: 1-4

Tragically so many believers upon receiving Christ by simple faith begin now to imitate him, to try to be like Christ. They set out with enthusiasm and the new found joy of sins forgiven.  But what God did in saving them now becomes to them their «responsibility» to attain. Words like: "I should, I must, I'll try, Help me, Lord to become more like You". Such responses are well intentioned, but none grasps that glorious fact that He who saved us by grace through faith is the same one who sanctifies us by grace through faith. We have to relearn the lesson that only Christ saves and sanctifies. It is not our doing but was his doing at the cross. Paul states this basic truth so succinctly: "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus, the Lord, so walk in Him". (Col. 2: 6)  How can we miss so simple a truth!

The Journey Begins with Renewed Anticipation

Let me illustrate these truths by a simple illustration. I personally love to travel; I must be a nomad!  In God's providence he has granted me the privilege of ministry in some 17 different countries with some 35 trips to Latin America and multiple trips to Mexico. But any simple journey by car to a new destination begins with a map. The map guarantees the route to be taken. No one invents his own map; he secures the best one he can find. He plans his trips with care. Merely to have the map in hand does not guarantee the safe arrival anywhere. But it is indispensable. God's map for the Christian life is found most clearly in Romans 5:12-8:39. He develops it, describes it and plots it for us.

God's map reveals where we were in Adam, a sinner (Rom. 5:12,) but now we are IN CHRIST, the Last Adam (5: 15-21. It is a MUCH MORE relationship. Our point of departure is we DIED to sin in Christ's death (6:1-6); roadside instructions are ours in (6: 11-14). We must not take any side road of self effort; we DIED to the Law and its impossible demands (7: 1-6). But Paul took the side road of:  I'll live the Christian life by my best effort and with God's help. (7: 7-24). But he ends up in a blind alley, anywhere but his destination. As always, if I'm lost, I must return to my original point of departure which is what Paul does in (7: 25) and is now introduced to a GUIDE who knows the way --the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Holiness. (7:6; 8:1-4)

Recently I was invited to speak at the First Baptist church (Hispanic) of Reynosa, Mexico, to celebrate Pastor's Day. Pastor Homero Fernández was my former student and now his son, Samuel, is in my class in Theology. Reynosa is only 14 miles from the Institute. In my 55 years at RGBI I have been there innumerable times. I drove directly to the Church. After 4 hour visit, I was set to return.

I thought I knew the way back to the International Bridge. I tried three times but failed to find the entrance: I was thoroughly confused. In desperation I stopped a man who was cleaning car windows and asked instructions. He offered me his ID and said: "Let me take you there." I did not check his ID and without fear I invited him to get in the car.  After all, I knew the language and culture. (Later my wife was scandalized by such a dangerous suggestion)  He took me a totally new way that I would never have been able to find.  Ultimately I was greatly relieved to see the bridge and gladly gave him a $5.00 tip. A guide who knew the way led me on a new path and I arrived home safely. (Incidentally there was a shot out between the Mexican army and the drug cartel at that hour about 2 miles from the church)  Our GUIDE is the Holy Spirit and he does his work faithfully. Jesus said: "He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you." (John 15: 14)  What confidence a Guide who knows the way brings to a new journey!

An Application of How the Christian Life Must Be Lived

We think we know how the Christian life should be lived, but it seems to escape us so often.  We put ourselves back under the law; our best self efforts are bound to fail. We have the map in hand and a true desire in our heart, but we did "not so learn Christ". (Eph. 4:20)  Victory comes through our identifying ourselves in his death to sin; then in faith grasping that truth we allow the GUIDE who dwells within to take us safely on the Walk of Faith. It is often a painful unlearning process followed by greater assurance in the learning process that always results in "Not I, but Christ". Christianity is Christ. He lives in us though the power of the Holy Spirit and wants to live out his life of holiness in and through us.

Yours in the Message of the Cross

G. Ernesto Johnson

Rio Grande Bible institute

Edinburg, TX 78539