This chapter contains a masterful treatise on mankind’s prime conflict of the flesh vs. the spirit. We have delved into this subject in previous chapters in Romans, and Paul goes even deeper here, explaining aspects of walking according to the flesh vs. walking according to the spirit.
Verses. 1-17: Flesh vs. Spirit
In addition to the obvious dichotomy of the flesh vs. the spirit, Paul also makes mention of how the old Mosaic law depended more on the flesh and physical things compared with the new law under Christ, which is spiritual in nature. In clear yet deep discourse, we are shown the negative results of walking in the flesh compared with the abundant blessings received when we endeavor to live spiritually.
- Law of sin and death
- Set your mind on worldly things
- Antagonism towards God, cannot please God
- Body is dead due to sin
- Living according to the flesh brings death
- Life in Christ brings freedom
- Righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled
- Set your mind on heavenly things
- The Spirit of God dwells in you
- Spirit is life due to righteousness
- If led by the Spirit of God, you are children of God
- Adoption by God
Verse 12 sums the deepest takeaway up very well: “we are debtors—not to the flesh…” We are indebted to God because we live in the flesh but according to the Spirit. In other words, God has given us a way to live in harmony with Him while we are still in the flesh. We maintain this harmony by walking in the Spirit, meaning that we seek to fulfill the needs of the spirit over the needs of the flesh. We incorporate Christ’s example, His teachings, and His ways into our lives. We sacrifice what we want for what He would want for us. We seek God in study, prayer, through serving others, and in so doing we deny ourselves and glorify God. And “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.” God makes the impossible possible through the Spirit.
Verses 18-39: More Than Conquerors
We are all waiting for the next thing. It is part of being human. We crave news and the next new thing. People are at once scared and fascinated by the afterlife. What is coming next? Where is this all leading? For Christians, we know that Christ died for us and that we are promised “heaven,” but we do not know exactly what that means. We will be in the presence of God, awash in His glory, but what will that be like for all eternity? We can surmise, we can daydream, but the truth is that no one of us has concrete answers. Alternatively, we can rest in the confidence given to us by the inspired Word of God: “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
No matter how bad life is or how bad it seems, it is not even worthy to compare with the glory that awaits us in the afterlife. Verses 18-25 has Paul zooming far out on the creation story, describing that God created us in the hope that we would love and cling to Him, but that we would eventually require the most precious sacrifice for redemption. From God’s side, He sacrificed His son because He loved us so. But from our side, we are left waiting on a deity we cannot see, which increases the importance of His return.
In the confusing challenge of life, we pray and we seek God’s help, sometimes not even knowing what it is that we desperately need. Enter the Holy Spirit, who communicates to God on our behalf the deepest yearnings of our heart. When our desires overlap the will of God and He desires to answer our requests (made with and without our knowledge), God grants us our deepest desires. What a mysterious and alluring comfort that is.
When we love and serve God, sacrificing our fleshly lives to serve Him in spirit, He blesses, justifies, and glorifies us. When we have a God that so lovingly created us, forgave us when we sinned against Him, and accepted us when we repented, the only sensible, logical option is to serve and love Him. What foolishness it is to turn our backs on Him and surmise that a future (here and in the afterlife) would be worth living without Him. In Him we are protected, in Him we are justified, and in Him we find the only purpose we have that has real consequence. When we are in the face of such power and obvious superiority, it is foolish to deny Him. Then, consider the love He shows, and the effort He expelled to reconcile us, and the result is to create in each of us a devotion to God that is unending. In the latter part of this chapter, a verse is taken from Psalm 44: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
This poetic willingness to suffer for the One that has given us everything is a balm to the tortured soul. It is the answer to life’s questions and it invigorates us towards the right priorities over the trivialities of the flesh.
Put simply, God has made us conquerors of a malady of our own making. And nothing can erase our success except the proclivity to satisfy our own weak and foolish flesh.