Life in the Spirit

Once I was checking in to a conference hosted at a large resort in San Antonio. The desk clerk pulled out a map to show me how to get around. She indicated our current location, where my room was, where the conference was, the location of the restaurants and pool and gym and amenities. She handed me the key and wished me well.

There are two scenarios that could have made my conference experience a disaster. One of them would have been staying in my room for the duration of the event. There was a big, wide world to experience – including a lot of great worship and teaching and fellowship – and an amazing venue to experience. What a bummer to stay in the hotel room the entire week and miss out!

The other disaster would have been if the hotel clerk used the wrong map to orientate me to the conference venue. Imagine what my experience would have been like if, rather than pulling out a map for the resort in San Antonio, she accidentally grabbed a hotel map from Las Vegas. She marks she made on the map, though correct on the map, would have had not bearing to the reality in which I was living. I would not have been able to find my room or the conference or the restaurants or anything.

Here’s the deal: in Romans 8, Paul functions like an expert guide giving us a grand tour of life in the Spirit. As Christians we have been transferred into the best reality ever – the kingdom of God, the domain of Christ, life under God’s grace – life in the Spirit. But there are two mistakes Christians make. Some Christians ‘stay in their rooms’ – that is, there is so much more God has for them but they don’t venture out to enjoy it all.

And other Christians try to live in the Spirit according to the wrong map – the map of the law, the map of the flesh, the map of the natural, the map of the old life. In Romans 8.1-13 God invites us to adopt a ‘life in the Spirit’ mindset.

The Big Idea is this: The Holy Spirit is not an optional add on to an otherwise natural Christian life; rather, the Spirit is the very habitat in which we live the Christian life.

When we talk about a habitat, we mean the natural environment in which an organism lives and grows. Remember – the Spirit is the natural habitat for Christians – it is the zone in which we live. Let’s unpack this text.

1. The Realisation: No Condemnation

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8.1-2                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Opening your Bible and reading Romans 8.1 is like walking into the closing argument of a trial that’s been going on for five years. Paul has been methodically and carefully building a case since Romans 1.18 – all the world is spiritually dead and guilty of sin and standing under God’s righteous and just judgment. Condemnation is where humanity sits. BUT BUT BUT – for those in Christ – there is no condemnation.

But don’t miss the power explanation given in verse 2: we have been set free from the law of sin and death. Now, you may ask, ‘What is the law of sin and death?’. This is a principle that govern’s God’s creation, and in simple terms it states: you sin, you die. This is confirmed in Romans 6.23, the wages of sin is death. Death in this sense is not immediate physical death but spiritual death – separation from God’s presence in whom is the light of pure life. We have been set from from that principle by another power principle – the law of the Spirit of life, which means that those made alive by the Spirit are free from the consequences of their sin.

2. The Foundation: It's done.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us. Romans 8.3-4

The foundation of all the benefits Paul describes in this chapter is the work of Christ. It’s not that God overlooked sin – no, he condemned sin in the flesh. But because Christ bore this condemnation in his flesh he offers life to those who by faith receive this promise.

3. The Orientation: In the Spirit

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Romans 8.9

We jump ahead to verse 9 which makes one very important point: all humans alive are either in the flesh or in the Spirit. Please note that all people are in the body; Paul is not talking about physicality, but about the power or dominion or habitat under which and in which we are living.

Some people live in the body according to the power of the old age – the flesh. Others who have been made alive by God are now living in the Spirit.

Also note that Paul is not saying some Christians are fleshy or some non-Christians are spiritual. No – these are binary categories; if you are in Christ, you are in the Spirit and you have the Spirit; if you are in the flesh you are not in Christ and you do not have the Spirit. This is either/or, not both and.

4. The Habitations: Flesh and Spirit

According to Galatians 1.4  we have been delivered from this present, evil age.
According to Colossians 1.13 God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.

It is important to understand the geography of the Christian life. These two verses describe the transfer God has effected in our lives: from this present, evil age to the future age in Christ, in the Spirit; from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God. In short, we have been transferred to a new domain for living the Christian life; our new life in Christ is the habitation of a new domain.

Remember, flesh in this passage does not refer to the human body, because both Christians and non-Christians are in the body, but Christians are in the Spirit and non-Christians are in the flesh. Rather, the flesh is the power of the old age; the Spirit is the power of the new age into which Christians have been translated.

When we say the Flesh we mean the habitat of living in and being controlled by the human domain of this-worldly values and principles.

When we say the Spirit we mean the habitat of living in and under control of the Spirit in the kingdom of God; a life orientated to the perspective and values of the kingdom.

So, when Paul is describing life in the Spirit, he is describing a mode of being consistent with our new creation reality by which we have been freed from the law of sin and death, justified, declared not guilty and been made new, given the Spirit, and adopted in the family of God.

5. A Tour of Two Habitats

The big focus in Romans 8.1-13 is the contrast of the two habitats – life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. Paul describes these two different modes of life associated with two very different habitats. In effect, Paul says, ‘IF you live in the flesh, this is what’s true; IF you live in the Spirit, this is what’s true’.

Let’s take a look at these two habitats:

CONTRAST 1: walking

There are two different ways of walking:

v. 4  who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit

Walking is a way of life rooted in perspective, decisions, values and priorities; these are all completely different based on the zone of habitation.

CONTRAST 2: mindset

There are two different ways of thinking:

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

To set our mind on the Spirit is to think in agreement with and according to the values of the kingdom of God, the Spirit habitat.

CONTRAST 3: Experience

There are two different experiences in each of these habitats:

6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Life and peace are part of the benefit package made available to us in Christ by the Spirit.

CONTRAST 4: Authority

There are two different authority systems that mark these habitats:

7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.

Notice – it’s not that people in the flesh try to submit to God and struggle with it; they can’t. That’s because they are living under a different authority regime. It’s not that they are neutral; the mindset of the flesh – the values, perspective, attitudes and priorities of this age – is hostile to God.

CONTRAST 5: Destiny

There are two different destinies awaiting those who inhabit these two zones:

13 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.

The ‘deeds of the body’ are those deeds done by us in the body but according to or consistent with the flesh. Those who have been transplanted into God’s kingdom have died to their old way of life.

This is why it is both silly – and dangerous – to live according to an old map – the map of the flesh – while trying to inhabit the kingdom of God. If you want a recipe for misery, try following Jesus in God’s kingdom but living according to the flesh. It doesn’t work.

6. So What?

What's interesting about Romans 8.1-13 is that Paul gives no imperative statements; he doesn’t say to do anything. Rather, he is describing the beautiful life in the Spirit God has made available. But we are practical people and we like to do stuff. So what can we do?

One way to apply this to our lives is to dip into Romans chapter 6 and borrow two imperative ‘do this’ statements. Romans 6 is interesting because Paul argues that Christians are dead to sin and live to God. Again, these are identity statements. But finally in verse 10 and he tells them what to do:

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 6.10

In short, Paul is telling them – this is what to do: consider yourself dead to sin. That is – embrace the thought as a reality that you are dead to sin. And then live like it!

So how do we live as citizens of the this new habitat called the Spirit? Here is one practical example: when you wake up tomorrow, make this the first thing you say: Good morning Holy Spirit! Let's have a great day together! And continue walking with the Spirit all day long. Remember, if you are following Jesus, you are in the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in you. Activate your access to God’s presence by acknowledging God and welcoming him into your world as you start the day.

Good morning Holy Spirit!