Gordon E. Johnson


The All Important Walk of Faith According to the Spirit

Romans 8:5-13 (NKJV)

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


In the passage before us, Romans 8:5-13, Paul is moving toward the climax of a Spirit filled life. What began in Romans 5:12-21 as our basic oneness with the Last Adam as opposed to the First Adam becomes now our ground for not continuing to live in sin.(The question of Rom: 6:I: “Shall we continue in sin . . .?”  Rather we died to sin in Christ when he died once for all to sin (Rom. 6:2, 6, 10). What follows logically is the « how» to appropriate this great truth: 1.) counting our selves dead to sin and alive to Christ , 2.) no letting sin reign in our mortal bodies,  4.) stop presenting our members to the old life but rather 5.) presenting our renewed will and members as instruments of righteousness. (6:11-14)

The next major step is our death to the Law, as if our best self efforts could suffice to bring us victory over sin. (Rom. 7:1-6)  God’s remedy is our spiritual union/marriage to a Risen Christ who brings the person and power of the Holy Spirit to meet our deepest needs. Paul failed miserably once to grasp this truth by faith, rather he insisted on trying to imitate Christ and master his sinful desires. Out of this painful experience now past, he realizes the breaking process needed to cast himself only on the Crucified. But just as suddenly as he «broke»: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24), he breaks out in a cry of victory. “I thank God –though Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:25) He has returned to his true position, dead to sin and alive to Christ. Within this context of faith, the Holy Spirit freed (past tense) him to thus fulfill in him the “righteous requirements of the Law”. (Rom.8:4)

The Absolute Polarities of the Flesh and the Spirit  Rom. 8: 5-8

Paul now interrupts his development of the ministry of the Holy Spirit to put into acute relief the incompatibilities of the flesh vis a vis the Spirit. He makes some basic statements that reveal the truth of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6) There can be no complicity between these two dynamics. Paul sets it in terms of the unbeliever, a slave of the flesh and the sin principle and the believer born of the Spirit.  Here we see the chasm that separates these two standings or modus operandi.

Notice how sharply they differ: “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, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (8:6-8) While these two dynamics are so contrasted, it comes as a shock, even to the believer that these two dynamics cannot coexist in the believer with the Spirit’s collusion. Every act, every thought, every attitude finds its origin in one or other of these two dynamics. Nothing but rebirth, regeneration, frees us from this duplicity.  The practical lesson for the believer is that he /she cannot look on the flesh as ever an option. The sad reality is that the believer may allow a carnal response, even with our best intentions as Paul did in Rom. 7:7-24.

Paul’s Resounding Affirmation in the Face of Such a Practical Duplicity  Rom. 8:9-11

In the strongest terms Paul negates such a dichotomy or division in the legal standing of the believer. Our position in Christ makes it a doctrinal impossibility, even if such an anomaly may in practical terms be seen in the believer’s walk. But you are not in the flesh,—such is not your standing before God, ample reason for hope—but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of God, he is not His” (8:9) There is no stronger statement of the truth that every true  believer has the Spirit, a person; we cannot have a half of a person.  Paul returns to the reality of the Christian walk recognizing the on going process of holiness: “And if—since-- Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (8:10) He returns to Rom. 6:6 the body of sin is annulled in a judicial sense but practical tendencies of the old life may recur.  However, the presence of the Spirit changes our walk.  Our legal standing does not change, but our walk moves forward in faith.

One of the most amazing verses now follows: “But if –since—the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Paul makes use of spiritual logic to say that the very same power that raised Christ from the dead in triumph over sin and Satan is the identical power made available to us by faith through the Holy Spirit. We can never truly say: I can’t, poor me, the odds are against me!

There can be no mountain too high or too steep that the risen Christ in us cannot overcome. No ingrained sin, inherited predisposition, or human or demonic power can stand in the way of the Spirit’s release. This is a breath taking thought, all grounded in the work of the Cross and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Final Conclusion to be Drawn and Grasped in Faith   Romans  8:12-13

Paul began this treatment of salvation in Romans tracing in depth the sin principle to the original fall of man Rom. 1:18-3:20 – 64 verses.  He follows the grave sin problem by announcing the Cross work of Christ our substitute, Christ  for us in Rom. 3:21-5:12 – 47 verses, justification by faith apart from works;  now he concludes the «how» of sanctification in Rom. 5:12 - 8:13. The reality of Christ in us and we in him is followed by the fruits of righteousness in Rom 8:14-39, a grand total of 97 verses dedicated to the believer’s position and walk.  Paul has brought us from condemnation to justification through sanctification to our ultimate glorification. What a magnificent journey of God’s grace through faith!

But Paul has still more to say in these two concluding verses. “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” (8:12, 13)  If these verses bring Paul’s treatment to a conclusion, we need to heed the warning.  Earlier in Rom. 8: 4 he introduces the filling of the Spirit in terms of our not walking according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

On two critical occasions, then, beginning with the assurance of the fullness of the Spirit (8:4) and concluding with the promise of the Spirit (8:12), he issues the warning that the Spirit controlled life is not an automatic response.  Such fullness cannot be assumed to follow apart from a faith walk of obedience. Rather the Spirit’s fullness calls for a conscious denial of the fleshly tendencies as seen in Paul’s one time struggle with his thought life.( Rom. 7: 7-24) 

Our Lord had echoed the same warning: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, whoever loses his life forMy sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23, 24)  Even in Romans eight as it is devoted to victory in Christ, Paul admits that we are NOT debtors to the flesh.  But the very mention of that given possibility implies that it may be a sad reality, if faith does not grasp the power of that risen life of Christ who lives in us. But the works of the flesh are too often seen in our daily lives. The rule of subtle pride so often mars our testimony before God and others.

Yet Paul makes it crystal clear that there is a deliverance from the sin principle that makes us truly free in Christ. However he does trace the theoretical end of walking in the flesh—“For if you live according to the flesh, you will die.” (8:12, 13) That does NOT assert the loss of salvation by any means, but rather it emphasizes our legal standing that makes such a possible end unthinkable. The whole thrust of Romans from Rom. 5:1 onward to this conclusion en 8:13 is that we are only debtors to live after the Spirit. Such is our calling and the proof of our legal standing before the righteous judge.

He concludes the exhortation on our debtorship to the Spirit by summing up the order and the priority of our walk of  faith: “but if by the Spirit you put to death the  deeds of the body , you will live.” Paul makes it very clear that first and foremost the actual dynamic is the Spirit himself. His ungrieved presence cancels out as worthless our best efforts to live by works under the law. (Rom. 7:7-24)  Only the Holy Spirit can raise us up to walk in newness of life, annulling the drag and sag of the flesh. But now in proper order: “But if you by the Spirit make to die the deeds of the body, you will live.” (13). Ours is a response in faith and obedience that activates that Spirit’s power. We in effect cooperate with the Spirit and in that double response; we will truly live the Christ life. This is Paul’s signature summation of sanctification.

A similar summary follows in Colossians 3: 1, 3, 5: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting  at the right  hand of God  . . . For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God . . . Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth . . .”  After stating his conclusion, Paul is now set to describe the fullness of  life in union with Christ, a life lived by faith in that identification and participation of the Spirit. This will be the next study—Victory in Jesus.

Yours in the Message of the Cross,

Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Edinburg, 78539