Walking in the Spirit: Romans 8 in light of 6 and 7

Walking in the Spirit: Romans 8 in light of 6 and 7 December 16, 2014

I ran across this question in a Facebook group:

What did St. Paul mean in Romans 8 when he spoke of walking according to the spirit? I read through that chapter tonight, and I had several flash backs from my days of Calvinism. It was sermons, such as the one preached in the video I will link (only four minutes – taken from a 40 minute sermon originally preached by a Reformed preacher), that drove me to despair and made me believe I was reprobate. Romans 8 was part of the problem, where walking according to the spirit meant going on witch hunts for sin in your life. Can someone please straighten me out in regard to what St. Paul means in this chapter?

My answer got a little long for Facebook:

It’s crucial to remember Romans 7 as you read Romans 8, and to remember Romans 8 as you read Romans 7. If you let 7 eat 8, you lose the doctrine of Sanctification, and if you let 8 eat 7, you lose the doctrine of Justification. Ask the guy in Romans 7 if he’s mortifying the deeds of the body (8:13), and he’ll say “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (7:23-24) And then he’ll say, by way of an answer, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25), because “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (8:1).

What is the “therefore” referring to? It’s not the last statement in the preceding verse, “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (7:25), because that’s just a summary of the problem that Paul’s been exploring since 7:7—the impotence, even the seeming betrayal, of the Law. That’s a parenthesis in his main argument. Romans 8:1 actually picks up where 7:6 left off. There is no question in chapter 8 about whether we are in the Spirit or the flesh. Follow the argument back to the beginning of chapter 6. We are not in the flesh, because we have been baptized into Christ’s death (6:3). That means our flesh is dead, which means we’ve gone beyond the reach of the Law (6:7, 7:1-6). Therefore there is “now no condemnation to them which are [baptized into] Christ.”

So who are those “who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit”? They are the baptized. Including the guy in Rom. 7 who’s constantly losing the struggle with his undead flesh? Yes. Otherwise, why would he say, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” and then in the next verse invoke the end of condemnation? Chapter 8 can be a little scary when read in isolation because it doesn’t distinguish between having the Spirit and walking in the Spirit, but chapter 6 already did that when Paul told us that we are dead to sin, and then spent nine verses (11-19) exhorting us to act the way he just said we objectively are. Now, it is still true that “to be carnally minded is death” (8:6), but remember, that’s the one thing the guy in Rom. 7 has going for him in terms of a godly life. “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (7:25). As long as you hate your sin and fight it in the strength of Christ’s forgiveness, you are walking in the Spirit. Not very well yet, not as you will do in the resurrection when the work of the Spirit who is in you now (8:10) has been completed (8:11), and your flesh has been buried with a stake through its heart, but you are. (Incidentally, this certain outcome in the resurrection, and its whole-to-the-parts connection to all temporal sanctification, could very well explain chapter 8’s equation of having the Spirit and walking in the Spirit).

So when the question arises, “Are you in the flesh or in the Spirit? Are you dead or alive?” you don’t answer it by looking to your works. You answer it by looking to the promise God gave you in Baptism. “I’m in Christ, so I’m in the Spirit.” In a passing sense you are two men: simul iustus et peccator, but you don’t have to say, “I’m in both.” The peccator is dead; he just doesn’t know it yet. The future You, the eternal You, the real You, is a citizen of the World That Is To Come: a member of Christ, animated by His Spirit now and forever. Understood in its context, Rom. 8 is actually a very comforting chapter.


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