So what is the difference between those who are simply called by God’s name, and those who really belong to Him? This is a question that arises in both covenants, and it is answered (in principle) the same way for both. The Jews had drifted into the error of externalism, and Paul is here cautioning the new Israel against committing the same error. The difference between formalism and the reality is the work of the Holy Spirit.
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit . . .” (Rom. 8:5-14)
Summary of the Text
The Spirit had been at work in the times of the older covenant, but He had not been poured out so extensively. At the same time, the nature of the border between the Spirit’s active work within the covenant and His absence within the covenant remains the same. There were true Jews, and Jews who just had the outside of the thing (Rom. 2:28). There are Christians like that also.
You have the mind of the kind of person you are. The fleshly mind belongs to the flesh; the spiritual mind belongs to the Spirit (v. 5). To veer off to the left like that is death, while to be spiritually minded is life and peace (v. 6). The carnal mind is hostile to God, and cannot help being hostile to God (v. 7). Notice that this hostility is evidenced through its refusal to be subject to the law of God (v. 7)—indeed, note its inability to be subject to it. This is why those who are in the flesh cannot please God (v. 8); they can’t want to please God. But this is not the condition of the Roman Christians (v. 9), unless . . . Paul says that they are in the Spirit if the Spirit is in them. If the Spirit is missing from a man, that man does not (ultimately) belong to Christ. It does not matter how many times he has been baptized. Baptize him until he bubbles, but his carnal mind is still there seething (v. 9). But if Christ is in a man, then the Spirit within him is life because of resurrection-righteousness, justification- righteousness (v. 10). This is true even though a true Christian’s body will still die because of sin. But not to worry, even though we will die, we will be raised—if the Spirit that raised Jesus is in us (v. 11). Our obligations, therefore, are not to the flesh (v. 12). We owe the flesh nothing. If you live as though you owed the flesh something, you will die (v. 13). The contrast to this is to mortify the deeds of the body through the power of the (indwelling) Spirit. If you do that, you will live (v. 13). Who are the true sons of God? They are the ones in whom the Spirit is at work, leading them in mortifying the deeds of the body (v. 14).
Certain things are true independent of us. We are male or female, regardless of what we think. Our parents are our parents, whether or not we like it. We are baptized or we are not, and our baptism always means the same thing (union with Christ in His death) whether or not we approve of that meaning. These are objective realities. A Jew was a Jew, whether or not he was a true Jew inwardly (Rom. 2:28). A Christian is a Christian, and he was baptized on a certain date with other people watching. The covenant, and all its attendant obligations, is an objective thing. Someone might say that if we have to be born again in the heart, then what value is there in being this kind of a Christian? The Pauline answer is “much in every way.” This is not the answer given by those who like to float
around in the invisible church, like dust motes in a sunbeam. While rejecting their approach, we must also say that, when it comes to the final question, all these privileges (which are genuine and real), together with five bucks, will get you a frappuccino.
Those Who Walk
Why is this? A man consists of more than his obligations, and his covenantal identity. At the center, we are defined by our loves and our hates, and this is what Paul is addressing here. The flesh does what? It minds the flesh (v. 5), it seeks death through a carnal mind (v. 6), it hates God (v. 7), it chafes under the law of God (v. 7), it is uninterested in pleasing God (v. 8), and it rejects the ownership of Christ (v. 9). Those who are characterized by this fleshly mind, circumcised or not, baptized or not, church fixture or not, are those who die. Are they a kind of Christian? Sure . . . the kind that goes to Hell.
The Spirit’s Leading
But at the same time, we must not make the mistake of thinking that if we have any struggle with the flesh, we must be unconverted. Thinking you are completely above the fray actually means that you are deep in sin. Remember our earlier illustration—weed patch, true garden with three foot weeds, and true garden with weeds the size of your thumbnail. This last category is described here (v. 13). Mortify the deeds of the body—the sense is continuous, ongoing. This is something we are all called to daily, and the Spirit is the one accompanying us, leading us to those weeds, pointing them out. “There, that one.” The true sons of God are those who are doing this (v. 14). The Spirit’s leading here is not directional (right or left), but rather moral (right or wrong). True sons have weeds to pull, and true sons pull them.
The True Evangelical
If churchmen are not evangelicals, they will destroy the church. Ironically, if evangelicals are not churchmen, they will destroy the church also. We insist upon being both. You must be baptized and you must be born again. If you have true, evangelical faith, you don’t set these things at odds with each other. You don’t love the woman while refusing to put a ring on her finger. You don’t put a ring on her finger while refusing to love her. Here’s a radical idea, kind of crazy when you think about it—why not both? Why not have a beautiful ceremony and treat her right? You are more than a Christian on paper if the Spirit is in you.