Are You in the Flesh or in the Spirit? (Exposition of Romans 8:5-11)

Are you in the flesh or in the spirit? The way we often talk about being both “in the flesh” and “in the Spirit” implies that a Christian may be “in the Spirit” one day and “in the flesh” another day. In fact, the transformation may take place from one second to the next. Consider a man singing “Amazing Grace” as he works at framing a house. All of a sudden he hits his thumb with the hammer. The tune he was singing changes dramatically. Some, observing this phenomenon would say the man went from being “in the Spirit” to being “in the flesh”. But would the Apostle Paul say that? Well, we don’t have to guess about what the Apostle Paul would say about being “in the flesh” and being “in the Spirit” because his description of both is found before us in this morning’s text, Romans 8:5-11. In this passage of Scripture the Apostle Paul provides a contrast between those in the flesh and those in the Spirit. He then describes the conflict of those in the flesh. Finally, he explains the consolation for those who are in the Spirit. Let’s examine what he said about this topic beginning in Romans 8:4,

In order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 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 the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 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. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 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. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom 8:4-11)

I. The Contrast Between Those in the Flesh and Those in the Spirit, vv. 4b-6.

For the Apostle Paul in Romans 8, being “in the flesh” and being “in the Spirit” are not states that one can pass back and forth into from moment to moment or day to day. Instead these are two distinct groups of people: the regenerate and unregenerate, the saved and the lost, believers and unbelievers. To be sure, one can pass from being “in the flesh” to being “in the Spirit”. That is what salvation is all about. It is also true that a believer can sometimes temporarily act like an unbeliever making it appear that he or she is “in the flesh.” But for the Apostle Paul, one who is “in the Spirit” is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, has the Spirit of Christ and guaranteed of a future resurrection of the body. The one who is “in the flesh” is spiritually dead, in warfare against God, not under God’s authority, cannot please God and is none of His.

These two distinct realms can be described as follows. The first realm, which is parallel to being “in the flesh,” is the same as being in Adam, under the law, a slave to sin and an heir of eternal death. The second realm, which is parallel to being “in the Spirit,” is the same as being in Christ, under grace, a slave to righteousness and heir of eternal life.

In vv. 4b-6 these two are directly contrasted with one another. Note the progression from walking (v. 4b) to thinking (v. 5) to being (vv. 8 & 9) . This does not describe different states, one or two of which a Christian may belong. Instead, the ones who walk “after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh” and are “in the flesh”! All three phrases describe the same people. This is also true fo those who are “in the Spirit.” I think we need to observe the vital connection between walking (which represents actions), thinking “carnally minded” and being. The connection is that the way one acts is a product of the way one thinks which itself is a product of what one is! This is true both for those “in the flesh” and those who are “in the Spirit.” This is why Jesus was able to say in Matthew 7:20, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

This is vitally important because, as verse 6 states, the end result of having a mind of the flesh is death! The end result of a having the mind of the Spirit is life and peace! Your eternal destiny is at stake!

“And as it is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgement!” Hebrews 9:27

What will you do? A young person says, “I will go to school, earn a degree, obtain a high paying job, gain recognition, retire and enjoy my riches in my old age.” Then what? Death is the universal answer! And, then what? Judgment! We each have an appointment with death and the judgment that must be kept!

So I ask you this question, Are you “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit”?

II. The Conflict of Those in the Flesh, vv. 7-8.
If you are in the flesh, do you realize that you are at war against God? Yes, you the sinner are at war with the greatest, holiest, best and most powerful of all beings, the God who created you and to whom you owe your undying allegiance, service and worship!

You may not realize that you are at war against God, but you most certainly are. Your daily rebellion against God is manifested in your failure to give thanks for your many daily blessings (like each breath, morsel of food, heartbeat, etc.). This in itself is high treason against the King of the universe and your Creator!

One reason that you may not believe that you are at war against God is because you sense no hostility in your heart toward God. After all, you acknowledge His existence, you might even say that you love Him.

But it is not the true God as revealed in Scripture that you love. You love an idol which you have created in your mind. What do I mean? Let me illustrate: I played a CD of the classic sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (preached by Jonathan Edwards on July 8, 1742 during the Great Awakening) in one of my classes at school this past week. The response of some of the students was that the God proclaimed by Jonathan Edwards was not the God which they know, love, and worship. Instead, they said, their God is a God of love. Another young man a couple of weeks ago told me that the God he loved and worshiped wouldn’t send people who had never heard the gospel to hell. When I told him that the Bible said that He would, the young man responded, “I sometimes think what I feel is more important than what the Bible says” (It was actually refreshing to actually hear someone put into words what many believe.). I believe it is possible to be teary eyed during gospel songs about heaven and still have a heart that is at warfare with the God of the Bible! I wonder how many think they are in love with God but are really in love with a mere idol of their own mind and are at war with and vehemently hate the true God who has revealed Himself in Scripture!

The greatest manifestation of the hatred in the heart of sinful man against a holy God was manifest at the cross! What would humanity do if it could get its hands on God? What would you do? What would I do? We would mock Him, curse Him, spit on Him, beat Him, and nail Him to a tree! That’s the hatred in the heart of man for the one true God.

Verse 7b says that you will not submit to God’s authority. This is the real issue. You don’t want God to rule over you, hence your hatred for God.

What’s more, you cannot please God! None who are outside of Christ can. God is only pleased with those who are in Christ. You are without faith and without faith it is impossible to please Him! This is a dreadful situation in which to be!

So again I ask this question, Are you “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit”?

III. The Consolation of Those in the Spirit, vv. 9-11.
But . . . ! What a glorious conjunction which begins verse 9! “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh . . .!” Understand that if you are “in the Spirit” then God is pleased with you. You are united by faith to Christ! There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus! Just as the Father spoke from heaven at the baptism of Jesus and said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” God the Father also looks at all those in Christ and says the same!

This consolation is offered to all those in whom the Spirit of God dwells. This is the status of all believers. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:16,

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Likewise in Galatians 4:6 Paul writes,

And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

Those who are “in Christ Jesus” (v. 1) have Christ in them (v. 10). In John 15:4-5, Jesus describes this union with the analogy of a vine and branches.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

But, according to Romans 8:9, if we don’t have the Spirit (of God and Christ), we do not belong to Christ! What is the Spirit of Christ? The Spirit of Christ is so called because it was sent from Christ to convict of sin, lead to Christ and conform to Christ! Is this work present in your life? Have you ever experienced conviction of sin? Have you ever been led to Christ? Are you being conformed to the image of Christ? Christ was humble, meek, full of faith, love and obedience. He also went about doing good and preaching the gospel. If we have the Spirit of Christ, we will manifest these characteristics! If you don’t have the Spirit of Christ, you don’t belong to Him!

OK, so where’s the consolation for those “in the Spirit”. The consolation is that although we have a problem (We’re not in the flesh but we’re still in these mortal bodies [v. 11].), the good news is that if you have the Spirit . . . you will receive a resurrection body! This is because the same Spirit who was operative in the resurrection of Christ from the dead, will also raise your body from the dead at the return of Christ. Again, the same Spirit that breathed life into the cold, stiff, lifeless body of a carpenter from Galillee will breathe life into your body. This is what Paul talks about elsewhere as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27)! Believers have Christ in them, through the Spirit of Christ, who will resurrect this mortal body to be fashined like the glorious body of Christ!

So I close with this question, “Are you in the flesh or in the Spirit?”

One comment

  1. “Are you in the flesh or in the Spirit?”

    Yes! I am!

    That was a great message. When will it be on sermonaudio for everyone to hear?

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