STUDIES IN ROMANS

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002

STUDY THIRTEEN: FURTHER TEACHING ON WHAT IT MEANS TO RELATE TO GOD 'KATA PNEUMA' IN CONTRAST TO RELATING TO GOD 'KATA SARKA' OR WITH THE'KATA SARKA' MINDSET: ROMANS 8:1-39

8:1 Therefore ... that is, on the basis of all that Paul has written to this point ...

  • having proved that no one - neither Jew nor Gentile - can be justified (declared to be in the right with God) on the basis of'works' or'law',
  • having proved that all are equally sinners, and there is no difference between Jew and Gentile,
  • having shown that the problem is not in the Law but in us, because of our identification'in Adam',
  • having shown that through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for sin all who have faith in him are identified with him in his death and hence removed from and released from the sin/law/death tyranny which held us in condemnation and spiritual death,
  • having shown also that the Law was never meant to be the means of either our justification or sanctification or on-going relationship with God,
  • having confessed that all of us even with our good intentions, are, in ourselves, incapable of deliverance from death, and find this deliverance only in Jesus Christ our Lord, - therefore'

8:1 there is now no condemnation ...

  • present tense ... 'is now' ... today, now, as I live (not, remember, a matter of waiting for 'pie in the sky when you die', but of eating the meat while you're still on your feet !!) ... irrespective of the tension of 7:13-25 ..
  • 'no condemnation' ... an absolute statement, not a 'maybe', not 'a little bit of condemnation left', not 'the possibility of some condemnation in some circumstances' ... but a straight, unequivocal 'NO' condemnation. Remember what it was that put us under condemnation? ... Adam's sin (5:16,18). What makes us aware of that sin and condemnation? ... The law (3:20, 5:20, 7:7-12). What releases us from sin/law/death condemnation? ... the death of Jesus Christ as our substitute, which is considered our death (6:1-11, 7:1-6).
Personal challenge [1]: Here we are challenged to face an important question: Am I still living with condemnation? Am I condemning myself? Am I allowing myself to be condemned by others? Am I allowing myself to be condemned by my (church or other) group? Am I allowing myself to think that God still condemns me? Remember what Paul has said in Romans 5:1 ... therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God ... present tense!
Personal challenge [2]: As an extension of this challenge: Am I heaping condemnation on others by my attitudes, words and actions in such a way as to make them live with condemnation?

8:1 for those who are in Christ Jesus ...

  • that is, for all believers - all who are the true children of Abraham (ch 4) - who trust the word of God, who trust God, no matter how impossible his word seems, no matter though the promise says that life comes out of death.
  • that is, for all believers - all who through the operation of the Spirit of God, have been united with Christ in his death for sin (ch 6).
  • that is, for all believers - to whom God no longer relates on the basis of what they do in their own flesh, but always, only and ever on the basis of the life-giving, regenerating work of the Spirit which has united them with Christ in his dying.
  • Very important: the truth of what Paul says in these verses is for all who are in Christ, not just for 'the spiritual elite' irrespective of what they might think sets them apart. The 'no condemnation' is true of every Christian; because it is based not on ourselves but on Jesus Christ, to whom every believer is united by the life-giving, regenerating work of the Spirit. Condemnation is always the opposite of justification, never the opposite of sanctification.

8:2 -'because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death' (NIV);'for the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death' (KJV);'for the law of the Spirit, which beings us life in union with Christ Jesus, has set me free from the law of sin and death' (GNB).

Questions: [1] By the word 'law' does Paul mean 'principle' in both' Or

- [2] Does he mean the Law of God in the second, and 'principle' in the first? Or

- [3] Does he mean the Law of God in both?

I would suggest that 'law' here is to be taken to mean 'principle' in both. In reference to 'the law of the Spirit of life' this principle includes reference to the Law of God, which clearly includes God's provision of grace and redemption; in reference to'the law of sin and death' this principle of sin and death includes reference to the Law of God which demands the death of the sinner. God's operating principles are never contrary to his Law; rather his Law is an expression of his operating principles.

What is the 'law of the Spirit'?

It is the same as

  • the law or principle of faith 3:27
  • the reign of grace 5:21
  • being 'under grace' 6:14
  • belonging to another 7:4
  • being under the new covenant of the Spirit not the old covenant 2 Cor 3:6-8
  • where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (liberty) 2 Cor 3:17
  • the perfect 'law of liberty' or 'law that gives freedom' James 1:25.

It is the principle of grace. It is called the 'law of the Spirit' because it is only by the operation of the Spirit of God that [1] we are convicted of sin, [2] we understand and believe the truth about Jesus Christ, [3] we are united with Christ through faith. It is the operating principle in the kingdom of God's Son.

What is the law of sin and death?

It is the principle of the Law of God, which, confronting all people, does all that Paul has described in the preceding chapters. Although in itself it is holy, just, good and spiritual it can never justify or sanctify because of our sinfulness. Rather it affirms, and makes us aware of, our condemnation and death. It is the operating principle in the dominion of darkness from which we have been rescued.

8:3 what the law could not do ... (was powerless to do) ...

According to 3:19,20, the law can not achieve our justification or right legal standing in the presence of God; and according to 8:4, it could not enable us to fulfil its righteous requirements. This was because it was weakened by the sinful nature (read 'flesh') ...

[I must point out here that the translation of the word'flesh sarks and its derivatives - by the words 'sinful nature' or 'sinful man' is misleading. It conveys an interpretation from a particular theological point of view and cannot be validated by the literal meaning of the word. Except for 8:3 (where 'sinful man' translates sarkos hamartias sinful flesh') the words 'sinful','nature' and 'man' do not occur in the text, only the word 'flesh'. In addition, where Paul uses the words kata sarka in reference to Jesus Christ, the NIV translates them as 'human nature' (Romans 1:3),'human ancestry' (Romans 9:5) and 'worldly point of view' (2 Corinthians 5:16). Sarks is not to be understood to refer exclusively to sinful man, sinful nature or sinful mind, but to our humanness. It refers to any man standing by himself in the presence of God - this sarks (flesh) may be clearly morally corrupt, or it may be, to our human eyes, very good, as were the Pharisees, but it is still 'flesh', it is still man cut off from God, man in his rebellion and independence, standing' naked, exposed and alone in the presence of the God from whom he is severed. It includes me in my own righteousness as well as me in my obvious sinfulness. It includes me standing in God's presence thinking that my little handful of goodness, or of Christian service, might purchase for me some favour or blessing from his hand. It is me seeking to relate to God on the basis of my own performance, instead of relating to him always, only and ever in and through Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour. (The only person who can stand in the presence of God kata sarka, and not be condemned and rejected, is Jesus Christ.)

At a deeper level of understanding, this relating to God kata sarka - this effort to stand alone and merit our own access to God - is sin at its foundational and original level: it was this desire to stand alone, to be independent of God, that was the original sin in Genesis 3. When Christians, even for a moment, assume that they, by what they are or do, earn, merit or deserve their relationship with God, they are relating to God kata sarka-according to flesh, and indulging in the sin of Adam.]

Paul has shown us in 5:12-21 and 7:7-25 that in ourselves - in our flesh - we cannot please God.

'God did ... by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering - he condemned sin in sinful man ... (read 'flesh')'

The death of Christ on the cross as our substitute both [1] affirms what God thinks of and does to sin and [2] removes the condemnation from those who believe. Note well: it is not our sanctification that removes us from the condemnation, it is our justification through the death of Christ. This is important to grasp, because there are many who interpret Romans 8:1-17 purely sanctificationally, wrecking the assurance of salvation of those who listen to them. Here Paul tells us that 'God did' what 'the law was powerless to do'. God, in laying all the condemnation for our sin upon Jesus Christ, removed us from the arena or kingdom where the law of sin and death held us under condemnation. The law could never do this for us for it could never gain a legal acquittal for us.

8:4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us.

The result of God's action in Christ's death is that we, in Christ our substitute, fully meet the righteous requirements of the law: we are justified, we are declared righteous, we are reckoned to be dead to sin. The just penalty for our sin has been fully paid: it was exacted from Christ. It will never again be debited to us because Christ's death has cancelled it. This is a complete, finished, never-to-be-repeated objective fact, with massive subjective ramifications.

The purpose of God's action in Christ's death: that we, having been justified by faith through the death of Christ, should from henceforth live in newness of life, obeying the law from the heart. See 6:1-7:6, and 8:5-17. This is something that has been inaugurated/commenced by the regenerating action of the Holy Spirit, and will continue throughout our lives as we respond to the operation of the Spirit of God within us.

8:4-11 'who do not live according to the sinful nature (read 'flesh') but according to the Spirit ...

That is, every person who is a Christian: we relate to God on the basis of the Spirit not the flesh. Here Paul takes up the two ways of looking at a person, which he introduced us to in his description of Jesus Christ kata sarka and kata pneuma in 1:3-4. This distinction is not between two levels of Christians, one worldly and one spiritual, but between non-Christians and Christians: between those, on the one hand, who have not embraced Jesus Christ and his salvation, and therefore have to stand in the presence of God on their own two feet, and those, on the other hand, who have embraced Jesus Christ and his salvation, and live in the presence of God trusting only and always in Jesus Christ for their acceptance with God.

Paul sets up a contrast:

Kata sarka 'according to flesh
Kata pneuma- according to Spirit

8.4

Live according to the flesh

Live according to the Spirit

8.5

Minds set on the things of the flesh

Minds set on the things of the Spirit

8.6

Mindset of the flesh is death

Mindset of the Spirit is life and peace

8.7

Mindset of the flesh is hostility to God

 
 

Mindset of the flesh does not submit to God's law

 
 

Mindset of the flesh cannot submit to God's law

 

8.8

Impossible for those who are in the flesh to please God

 

8.9

Does not have the Spirit of Christ

Spirit of God dwells in you

 

Is not in Christ

Is not in the flesh

   

Is in the Spirit

8.10

The body is dead through sin

The spirit is alive through righteousness

   

Christ is in you

8.11

 

Spirit of God is living in you

   

God will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.

An analysis of the above contrasts clearly identifies the kata sarka people as those who have not received Jesus Christ and his salvation, and the kata pneuma people as those who have. Verse 9 is particularly powerful in this respect. The difficulty most people find in this passage is due to the automatic performance based perception that most, if not all, humans have concerning our relationship with God. It goes contrary to our training, our expectations and our pride to relate to God on the basis of his mercy instead of our personal merit. To live according to flesh is to relate to God the way all flesh relates to'god on the basis or performance (personal merit). To live according to the Spirit is to relate to God the way the Spirit has revealed to us, and into which he has initiated us' on the basis of God's mercy freely given to us in our Lord Jesus Christ. The one is certain death: the other is certain life. The one is constantly under threat of guilt and condemnation: the other is peace (verse 6).'

For your study: check out similar teaching in: Romans: 1:3-4; 2:28-29; 7:5-6; 2 Cor 5:14-17; Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16ff; Gal 6:8; Phil 3:3ff; John 3:6.

8:12ff - therefore ...

Here Paul again affirms what he has stated in chapter 6: that because the Gospel of God's free grace is in place, and has removed us out from under the tyrannous rule of sin and death and placed us in the kingdom of God where we enjoy full acquittal, we should live our lives subject to God. Let us look again at the implications of grace that Paul identified there:

Review of 6:11-14:

  • count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus
  • therefore do not let sin reign ... so that you obey its evil desires
  • do not offer the parts of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness
  • offer yourselves to God ...
  • for sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Review of 6:15-23:

  • you are slaves to the one whom you obey
  • you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness
  • you used to ... but now
  • but now you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God ...

Similarly, here in 8:12, Paul says: therefore (because 8:1-11 is true) we have an obligation - but it is not to the flesh, to live according to flesh. (Remember, with the exception noted above, to read 'flesh' where you see 'sinful nature' or 'sinful man' in the NIV.) There are two contrasting ways of understanding these words and the verses that follow. Firstly, because we have been conditioned to understand 'flesh' to always mean what we could call bad actions, we automatically understand these words on a superficial, moralistic level, and think that they are referring to sin. (This understanding is reinforced by any translation which renders the word sarks as 'sinful nature'.) If this is the case then verses 12-14 hold us in an inescapable bondage to the law of sin and death and we are no better off than before we received the Gospel, indeed the Gospel ceases to be 'good' news.' Or, secondly, we can understand these verses on a radically deeper plane: that they are not speaking primarily and essentially about the bad or good things we do, but of the way in which we are relating to God.

To relate to God kata sarka according to flesh is to relate to God on the basis of our own performance; it to see our acceptance with him as dependent on whether or not we have successfully maintained an acceptable level of good, moral attitudes, words and actions. For those who see themselves as having achieved this acceptable level of godliness or whatever, their 'flesh' will be very good, when judged by human standards. For those who see themselves as not having achieved this acceptable level of godliness or whatever, their 'flesh' will, in their own perception, be bad or sinful. The point is that 'flesh' can be either good or bad. Remember the Pharisee in Luke 18, who stood in the temple bragging about his own performance and expecting that on the basis of who and what he was in himself he would be accepted by God. Remember Paul's religious r'sum' in Philippians 3:1-10, where Paul recalls all the 'good' stuff he used to depend on when he was relating to God kata sarka. This is what Paul means here in Romans 8:12-14 when he says our obligation is not 'to flesh, to live according to flesh' (12), that if we live 'according to flesh' we will die (13a). To live 'according to flesh' is to relate to God, to try to live in his presence, to think that we gain, or fail to gain, the right to live with him, on the basis of our own merit.

But what about the second half of verse 13? Doesn't it contradict everything I have just written? No. In the NIV text we see the word'misdeeds?. In the Greek text the word is simply 'acts', 'deeds' or 'actions' (praxeis). There is nothing in the Greek text to indicate that these actions are only bad or wrong actions. What Paul is telling us here is to'put to death? our own actions, the things that we do; he is saying 'stop giving significance to your own actions - who you are and what you do - as the means of gaining or maintaining a positive relationship with God.

In all of us there is an automatic desire to promote ourselves, so see ourselves as meriting acceptance on the basis of who we are and what we do - Paul says: put yourself to death. You don't count. No matter what you've done, no matter who you are, don't give saving significance to your actions. In Philippians 3:7 Paul wrote 'But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ' and in verse 8 'I consider them rubbish'. This is how he is asking us to view our own religious claims to fame: to count them loss, to consider them rubbish, to put them to death. This is what he is saying to the Jewish Christians in Rome, who were 'bragging' about their relationship with God, who were 'bragging' about their possession of the law and who were taking confidence from their circumcision (2:17-29). As Paul has said earlier, the fact that we are justified by faith apart from observing the law outlaws and excludes boasting (3:27-28).

How can we do this? How can we overcome our pride, and conceit and independence, and stop living in God's presence kata sarka - according to flesh? Only 'by the Spirit' (8:13). It is only as we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us the truth of our union with Jesus Christ that we will be able to relate to God always, ever and only in Christ and kata pneuma'- according to the Spirit, as Paul demonstrates in this passage. We will now look at it in tabulated format:

Relating to God kata sarka according to flesh?
Relating to God kata pneuma -'according to Spirit

8:12

We have no 'obligation' to live'according to flesh - in other words now that we have been united to Jesus Christ, our responsibility is to stop relating to God kata sarka - on the basis of our actions.

On the contrary, our obligation is to relate to God kata pneuma - according to Spirit, because he has rescued (Colossians 1:13) us from the dominion of the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2) which demanded we perform 100% perfectly (Galatians 3:10), and placed us in the kingdom of his Son (Colossians 1:13) where grace reigns (Romans 5:21).

8:13

If we 'live' that is, live in the presence of God, relating to him kata sarka -'- on the basis of our own merit and performance - we 'will die'. The Greek text is literally 'you are about to die'. Both the'are about to' (mellete) and the 'to die' (apothneskein), are in the present tense. This means that if we are living in the presence of God on the basis of our own merit, that is, according to flesh, we are always at the point of death - of separation from God and from eternal life; as Paul has said in 8:6 'the mind of the flesh is death' (literal translation).

If, on the other hand, we have 'put to death' or done away with this kata sarka performance based way of relating to God because the Spirit of God has revealed to us the truth of our faith union with Jesus Christ we will live in the presence of God without threat of'death'. This is what Paul has earlier stated: 'the mind of the Spirit is life and peace' (8:6, literal translation).

8:14

The logical opposite of this verse is that those who relate to God kata sarka, which is the opposite of the Gospel communicated by the Spirit of God, are not 'sons of God'. [It must be noted here that there are many who, from their perspective, are still trapped in a kata sarka mindset, but, from God's perspective, have already been placed by him into the kata pneuma relationship with himself through their faith in Jesus his Son.]

'because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God'. Those who have allowed the Spirit of God to lead them into the truth, who have responded to the Spirit of God when he told them about Jesus Christ and the complete salvation he provides - these are the sons of God. Not those who relate to God kata sarka but those who relate to kata pneuma - according to Spirit.

8:15

When a person relates to God on a performance/law/merit basis there is always bondage (the necessity to perform, to keep the law 100%), and there is always the fear that one might not have performed at a satisfactory level, and will therefore be rejected. This is why Paul says that we should put this way of relating to God to death.

This verse contains the word for 'but' (alla) which is used to set up a strong contrast. Not slavery and fear but'

'For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship. And by him we cry,'Abba, Father.'

Here, when we relate to God kata pneuma, is the opposite of slavery and fear. Here there is confident and intimate sonship. Here our constant access to God is permanently assured - without our achieving stated standards and with absolutely no fear of rejection. This fearless and free access to God is in stark and strong contrast to the slavery and fear that characterizes a kata sarka relationship with God.

8:16

 

'The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.' This is the assurance of faith, which is the blessing promised to Abraham, and mediated through the descendent of Abraham, Jesus Christ. For further on this go back to Romans 4, and study Galatians 3 and 4.

8.17

Relating to God on the basis of personal merit means that we have to earn/deserve everything we hope to receive from God. If we expect to be thus paid positively for our merit we also expect to be paid negatively for our demerit. If we hope to gain by our goodness we also expect to lose by our badness. What we have gained can also be lost, because it depends entirely on our merit, and that fluctuates.

'Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Concerning the word 'if': there are two Greek words for 'if', one indicating uncertainty, the other referring to an existing condition, in the same way that we use the word 'since'; it is this second word that is used here, so that Paul is saying 'since we are children'.) Here we are told that all that God has for us is ours, not because we have deserved it, but because God, in making us his children through the operation of his Spirit (John 3) and on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf (Ephesians 1:4-6), has also made us his heirs - without any reference to our merit or demerit. (See also John 1:12-13; Galatians 3:26-4:7; 1 John 3:1-2).

For your study: It is important that you are able to identify how you are relating to God. If you have truly believed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, then, whether you realize it or not, and whether you are enjoying it or not, God has actually rescued you from the performance based relationship to him and put you into a grace based relationship with himself. The Roman believers, and they were genuine believers - they had received Jesus Christ as the Lord - had yet to realize and put into practice the grand implications of their relationship to God in Christ. How about you? How are you relating to God kata sarka - on your own two feet, or kata pneuma - in and through Jesus Christ? On the basis of your own spiritual performance/merit, or on the merits of Jesus Christ and his cross? Do you perceive your present sins to interfere with your acceptance with God, with your prayers, with your worship, with your service? Or do you live in the peace and joy of knowing that nothing you have done, are doing or ever will do, can ever make a separation between you and your God? Discuss these issues. Honestly face these questions.

8:17b: Having said all of that about our fantastic relationship with God in Christ, Paul again brings up the topic of suffering, and we find ourselves again wondering why on earth he decided to start on this subject, when it has not been part of his argument this far, except for that brief comment in chapter 5. Here in verse 17 he tells us that being'heirs together with Christ' includes 'suffering together with Christ' (both are present tense), the goal of which is being 'glorified together a threefold union with Christ: heirs together, suffer together, glorified together.' As in the first part of the verse, the 'if' is not that of uncertainty, but is an intensified form of the 'if' that refers to an existing condition. Paul's teaching on the topic of suffering, in which it becomes clear why he has introduced the subject, will be addressed in the next study.

For your study: In the meantime, study the following passages to get the feel of what the New Testament says about Christians suffering: John 15:18-21; 16:33; Acts 9:16; 14:22; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 4:17-18; Philippians 1:28,29; Colossians 1:24; 2 Timothy 2:12; 3:10-12; Hebrews 11 & 12; James 1:2,3; 1 Peter 1:6,7.