Romans 8:5-11 The Carnal Man and the True Christian


There have been books written about the Christian life that indicate that becoming a “disciple” of Jesus Christ is, in the final analysis, merely optional. This conclusion is fatal, because it encourages us to suppose that we can be careless about our Christianity, doing little and achieving nothing, and yet go to heaven securely when we die. This really bothers me, the idea that one can live as the world lives and still go to heaven. If it is true, it is comfortable teaching. We are to have the best of both worlds, sin here and heaven, too. But if it is not true, those who teach it are encouraging people to believe that all is well with them when they are, in fact, not even saved. They are crying, “Peace!” when there is no peace. They are doing damage to their souls.

We come to this problem in the paragraph of Romans 8 that begins with verse 5, because in these verses, for the first time in the letter, the apostle gives a careful definition of the “carnal” person. The idea occurs five times in verses 5-8 (“sinful nature” in NIV) and it already occurred three times in verses 3-4. It means to be a merely sinful man, that is, man apart from the regenerating and transforming work of the Holy Spirit of God in salvation. This is what we have to keep in mind as we study Romans 8. For what Paul is talking about here is the difference between those who are Christians and those who are not. That is, he is speaking of two kinds of people only, not three. Specifically, he is not speaking of how a “carnal Christian” is supposed to move beyond a rather low state of commitment in order to become a more serious disciple of the Lord.

What is it that most characterizes an unsaved person? These verses define the unbeliever in four important ways: (1) in regard to his thinking, verse 5 tells us that “those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.” (2) In regard to his state, verse 6 describes that the state of the unbeliever is “death.” Paul is not speaking of physical death, of course. He is speaking of spiritual death, and what he means is that the unsaved person is as responsive to the things of God as a corpse. (3) In regard to his religion, verse 7 tells us that “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” At first glance it might seem strange to speak of the “religion” of those who operate according to the sinful nature, since we have just shown that they are unresponsive to God. But strange as it may seem, the unsaved do have a religion. (4) In regard to his present condition, the last thing Paul says of the unsaved, or “fleshly,” individual is that a person like this “cannot please God” (v. 8).

Paul isn’t writing only of unbelievers in these verses. He is also writing of Christians, contrasting them with unbelievers. He lists two of the Christian’s contrasting characteristics specifically. (1) The Christian thinking: In verse 5 the apostle contrasts the unbeliever and the Christian in terms of their thinking, saying that the unbeliever has his mind what the sinful nature desires but that the Christian has his mind “set on what the Spirit desires.” This eliminates many misconceptions; first, like the idea that the Christian is someone who is merely very “religious.” To be very religious and to be mindful of the things of the Spirit are two entirely different things. Second, it eliminates the idea that a Christian is anyone who merely holds the right theological beliefs. Being a Christian is more than giving mere verbal assent to certain doctrines. It is to be born again. And since being born again is the work of God’s Spirit, it is right to insist that those who are truly born again will have their minds set on what God desires. Finally, Paul’s way of speaking eliminates the idea that a Christian is someone who has attained a certain standard of approved conduct. What, then, does being a Christian mean? It means exactly what Paul says. The Christian is someone who has been born again by the work of the Holy Spirit and who now, as a result of that internal transformation, has his mind set on what the Spirit of God desires.

(2) The Christian’s state: The second specific characteristic of the Christian is his state, described as “life and peace” (v. 6). It is the opposite of “death,” which describes the non-Christian. The Christian is a person who has been made alive by God’s Spirit. Spiritual matters make sense to him now. Before, he was dead in his sins; now he is alive to a whole new world of reality. And he is at peace – peace with himself, as he never was before, in spite of many heroic efforts to convince himself that he was. Above all, he is at peace with God.

Paul has called us to examine ourselves by sharply contrasting those who live according to the sinful nature and those who live according to the Spirit (vv. 5-8), Paul continues by showing in a most encouraging manner, who a Christian really is in verses 9-11. His outline is simple. He talks about the Christian’s past, present, and future. The past is discussed in verse 9, the present in verse 10, and the future in verse 11.

Verse 9 discusses the Christian’s past. It’s important because it makes clearer than any other verse in this chapter that the description of those who are not controlled by the sinful nature but who live in accordance with the Holy Spirit applies to all Christians, not just to so-called spiritual ones. In other words, there is no ground for the doctrine of the “carnal Christian” here. Notice the apostle’s ruthless logic: (1) if you do not have the Spirit of Christ, you do not belong to Christ; (2) if you belong to Christ, you will have the Spirit of Christ; and (3) if you have the Spirit of Christ, you will not be controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit. In other words, if you belong to Jesus, you will live like it. If you do not live like it, you do not belong to Him, regardless of your outward profession. This is an absolutely critical thing, for it means that being a Christian is not merely a matter of adopting a particular set of intellectual or theological beliefs, however true they may be. It involves a change of state, which is accomplished, not by us, but by God who saves us.

Verse 10 describes the Christian’s present state. In some versions of the Bible the word “spirit” is printed with a capital “S”, as referring to the Holy Spirit, but this is an error. The verse is referring to our spirit and should be printed with a lower case “s.” It is a reference to our being born again. Although our physical bodies will die and are, in a certain sense, as good as dead now, our spirits have been made alive by the Holy Spirit whom the Father has sent to do precisely that. What does it mean to have our spirits made alive by the Holy Spirit? Paul is talking about the present experience of the Christian, remember. So he means that by the new birth the Spirit has made us alive to things we were dead to before.

Verse 11 describes the Christian’s future, pointing forward to his or her physical resurrection. Although we will die physically, we shall all nevertheless rise again. There are two common mistakes in the interpretation of this verse that we should not fall into. The first misunderstanding is that the text is speaking not of a future physical resurrection but some kind of moral resurrection. Paul is not thinking of that here. The second mistake is to think of this in terms of “faith healing,” which some have done, supposing it to be a promise of perfect health for those who believe God will heal them. This idea is simply foreign to the context. The verse is speaking about a future resurrection, and it is regarding it as certain for all who are in Christ.

Are you a Christian? By all means, ask that question of yourself. Be sure of the answer. But when you are sure, be sure of this truth, too: nothing in heaven or earth will ever separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that your future will be even better than is your life with Jesus now.

Romans 8:5-11 Reflection Questions:

In verses 5-11 Paul moves into an extended contrast between what is flesh and what is Spirit. He is talking about “material” verses “nonmaterial,” since for Paul as a Jew the physical created order was good. From what Paul says here then, define what he means by these terms.

How does Paul say you can tell the difference between those who are concerned with “flesh” and those concerned with “the Spirit?”

Give some examples of what it might look like to live life concerned with the things of the Spirit.

Paul has not developed a regular formula for speaking about God as one in three, but he already possessed all the elements that would later be known as “Trinitarian theology.” How are God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit seen in verses 5-11?

Romans 8:1-4 God’s Action in Messiah and Spirit


With verses 1-4 Paul opens what many consider the greatest chapter in Scripture. The first verse is the theme of the chapter. Everything else flows from it. The rest of the chapter is basically an exposition of this one idea. But verse 1 is not only the theme of Romans 8. It is the theme of the entire Word of God, which is only another way of saying that it is the gospel. Indeed, it’s the gospel’s very heart. This is what Paul has been explaining all along. Always it is the gospel. Paul seems never to have grown tired talking about it.

What about us, do we find the gospel wearisome and grace boring? Many do! Why are we so different from Paul at this point? I think it’s because of what Jesus alluded to in speaking of the woman who anointed His feet with her tears and then wiped them with her hair. She had a sinful past, and those who knew it objected. Jesus answered by telling of a man who had been forgiven a great debt and who therefore loved his benefactor greatly. Jesus’ point was that “he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:36-50). Isn’t that it? Isn’t it true that the reason grace means little to most of us it that we do not consider ourselves to be great sinners, desperately in need of forgiveness? We cannot appreciate or even understand what Paul is saying unless we recognize that we are sinners and that we have been saved only by the grace of God.

The point we need to make sure we really understand what is being said is, that there is no condemnation for us because of what God has done. But do we really believe that? Or do we still think that somehow, in some way, we are contributing to our salvation?

Paul writes that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is, there are two classes of human beings: those who are in Christ Jesus and who are therefore not under condemnation and those who are not in Christ Jesus and who are therefore still under condemnation. What he is promising is for those in the first class only. But the question is: How do we get out of the one class and into the other? Is this something we do? Do we earn it? Do we attain it “by faith”? If you have understood what the apostle has been saying up to this point, you will know that it is none of the above. It is because of God’s work in joining us to Christ. This is what the last half of Romans 5 and almost the whole of Romans 6 is about. Salvation is from God; it is by God. What the text says is that there is no condemnation for those who have been joined to Jesus Christ by God the Father through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit.

That statement is a Trinitarian statement – it speaks of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – and because it is precisely in these terms that Paul goes on to explain what God has done for us and why “there is now no condemnation” – (1) because of the Father’s work; (2) because of the Son’s work; and (3) because of the work of the Holy Spirit. Now it is “no condemnation” for those who are in Jesus. But don’t presume on this security. This is a great doctrine for those who truly are in Christ, but it is only for those who are in Him. Make sure you are. If you are not sure, give the matter no rest until the Holy Spirit Himself plants upon your heart the assurance that you really are Christ’s.

We come now to verses three and four of Romans 8. Verse 1 announces the great welcome news of freedom from condemnation for all who are in Christ Jesus. It means that God has saved, and is saving, a great company of people by the work of Jesus Christ. We have the law. But we are unable to keep it. We are condemned by it. We cannot be set free from the law’s condemnation by law, because the law is powerless. But what the law could not due, God did by sending His Son to be a sin offering. It is as if, in these verses, Jesus is saying to us, “Neither do I condemn you; go in peace” (John 8:10-11).

But as we come to verses 3 and 4 we discover that it is not merely a question of our being delivered from the law’s condemnation. Christ has delivered us from the law’s power, too. He died to start the process of sanctification and not merely to provide propitiation from wrath, on the basis of which God has been able to justify believers from all sin. In other words, to go back to John 8, Jesus is saying, “You are free from all condemnation, but you must now leave your sin.

What this is teaching is that justification and sanctification always go together, so that you cannot have one without the other. Justification is not sanctification. We cannot be saved because of any good we may do. If that were the case, Jesus would have told the woman: “Leave your life of sin, and if you do that, neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus did not say that. It was the other way around. No condemnation! But then a holy life! Nevertheless, just because justification is not sanctification and sanctification is not justification, we are not to think that sanctification is somehow unimportant; on the contrary, according to Romans 8:3-4, sanctification is the very end of which God saved us. By sending His Son to be a sin offering, God “condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”

We cannot live a holy life apart from the Holy Spirit; we must keep close to God in Bible study where God speaks to us, and in prayer in which we speak to God. We must seek the Spirit’s blessing. We must work at this relationship. We must remember that in Romans 6 Paul developed the key to holiness by saying that we are to understand what God has done for us in Christ and then base our entire lives on it, by conforming our conduct to what we know to be true (see Rom. 6:11-13). Paul doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit in Romans 6, but, as we now learn in chapter 8, it is only by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God that we can do this.

It’s mandatory to follow after Christ to be a Christian. When I say holiness is mandatory, I don’t mean that it is merely good to be holy, and I certainly don’t mean that we can be perfect or ever reach a point where we will no longer be in danger of sinning. I mean we must be on the right path. We must actually be walking according to the Spirit of God, if we are Christians.

Romans 8:1-4 Reflection Questions:

When Paul begins this section of Romans with “therefore,” he indicates there is a connection between what he has just said and what he goes on to say. How does Romans 8:1-4 connect with the main themes found in Romans 7?

According to Paul, sin has received its death-wound. Before the Spirit can be unleashed to blow like a spring gale through the dead wood of the world, the power of evil needs to be broken. The way that needs to happen is for sin to be condemned – not just the passing of sentence, but its execution. How, according to 8:1-4, has this “execution” happened?

In the Old Testament, a sin offering (mentioned in verse 3 here) was a sacrifice used when someone committed a sin unwittingly (not knowing it was wrong) or unwillingly (knowing it was wrong but not intending to do it) – the very kinds of sin Paul considers in Romans 7. How is this image of a sin offering helpful to Paul’s line of thought in verses 1-4?

Paul declares exuberantly that “there is no condemnation for those in the Messiah, Jesus!” No condemnation! This assurance can of course only carry its full force for someone who has pondered carefully the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment. What words of Paul’s in Romans so far have given you a deeper picture of the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment?

Romans 7:25 Victory through Jesus Christ Our Lord!


The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:8 “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” You have probably felt like that when you have been struggling against some sin, almost in despair. In fact, I’m sure you have, if you are really a Christian. All Christians find themselves wanting to do what is right (because of the life of Christ within) but of not being able to do what they would like to do (because of the continuing presence of indwelling sin). In fact it’s worse than that. For, as we mature in the Christian life, growing closer to Jesus Christ and thus wanting to be more like Him and please Him more, the struggle actually grows stronger rather than weaker. Those who struggle most vigorously against sin are not immature Christians but mature ones. The hardest battles are waged by God’s saints. Although the struggle is a real one and difficult, the outcome is not bleak or uncertain but glorious – because of God.

That is what Paul comes to at the very end of Romans 7. After he has reached the absolute low point, asking, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” he answers with “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25). That is, although the apostle was not able to find even the smallest ground for a hope of victory within himself, even at his weakest point the end in not grim because as a Christian he knows that God is for him. God has assured every believer victory through the work of Christ. If you are struggling against sin – as I know you are, if you are a true Christian – that is what I want to leave with you as a result of this final study of Romans 7. The reason for your struggle is to teach you to rely not on yourself but on God, who raises the dead. And what I want you to be assured of is that He has already delivered you from “deadly peril,” and that He will deliver you again.

The deliverance from sin provided for us by God through Jesus Christ is in three stages, and the first is deliverance from sin’s penalty, that is, from the judgment and wrath of God due us as the result of our being sinners. This is not the deliverance spoken of in Romans 7:25, but it is foundational, and Paul discussed it carefully in the opening chapters of the letter. It is this foundation that all further deliverance is built. If you are a Christian, Jesus Christ has delivered you from the penalty of your sin. You are guilty of transgressing the law of God and of trampling God’s honor. You deserve to die. But Jesus has made payment for your transgressions. Jesus died so that you might be delivered from sin’s penalty.

The second deliverance from sin provided for the believer by God through the work of Christ is from sin’s power, that is, from constant defeat by sin in our struggles against it day by day. Neither is this what Romans 7:25 is talking about primarily. The deliverance spoken of in our text is a future deliverance, not a present one. But present deliverance has bearing in this context, since Paul has been speaking of his present struggles against sin in chapter 7 and is going to talk about a present (as well as future) deliverance in chapter 8.

Romans 7:25 is talking about deliverance from sin’s presence, that is, about a future (third) deliverance. The deliverance Paul is looking for here is specifically a final deliverance from the very presence of sin, which has its hold on him now only through “this body of death,” or “this dying body.” Paul’s final deliverance was to be through death and resurrection. What Paul is saying, is that, although he is assured of a final victory over sin, he nevertheless knows that he must continue to fight a vigorous battle against sin daily until he dies. He has been saved from sin. He is being saved from sin. He will yet be saved from sin. But until the day of final deliverance it is his continuing responsibility to fight on.

Victory is ours, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The triumph of grace is assured, regardless of how badly we may think we are doing now and how near despair we may be due to the intensity or duration of the struggle. It is the very knowledge of a final victory that will enable us to fight on. Apart from Jesus, not one of us can prevail for a moment. But united to Him, we not only can prevail, we will. The Bible promises that “He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

There is this, too: Although your struggles may be prolonged and difficult, they are not essentially different from those of the many believers who have preceded you, including Paul and other great personalities of Scripture. They triumphed, and so will you. Remember the text: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Romans 7:25 Reflection Questions:

What do you do in your struggles with sin?

Whom do you rely on in your struggles with sin?

Romans 7:21-24 The War Within


We ended our last study by stating that sanctification is the process of coming increasingly to see how sinful we are so that we will depend constantly on Jesus Christ. And that’s not easy! The Christian life is a warfare, a warfare within against our inherently sinful natures, as well as a warfare without against external forces. It is extremely important that we see this.

“Spiritual realism” is when we face the fact of the war within us. Realism has to do with our willingness or lack of willingness to face unpalatable truths about ourselves and to start making necessary changes.* We will look at four statements with which this spiritual realism should start.

  1. When God called us to be Christian people He called us to lifetime struggles against sin. This should be evident from everything Paul says in verses 14-24. The starting place for achieving spiritual realism is to recognize that we are called to a constant spiritual warfare in this life and that this warfare is not easy, since it is against the sin that resides in us even as converted men and women. Realism calls for rigorous preparation, constant alertness, dogged determination, and moment-by-moment trust in Him who alone can give us victory.
  2. Although we are called to a lifetime struggle against sin, we are nevertheless never going to achieve victory by ourselves. We are as a people very susceptible to simple, quick-fix solutions or avoidance, we are also very confident of our ability to handle even the most difficult challenges. In this we are perhaps more like the apostle Peter than anyone else in the Bible. Remember Peter’s boast in Luke 22:33? Although Peter was boastful and self-confident and was wrong on both, Jesus also told him that He prayed for him. In the great battles of life it is certain that we will fall away and be lost unless Jesus prays for us, which is what He has promised to do.
  3. Even when we triumph over sin by the power of the Holy Spirit, which should be often, we are still unprofitable servants. Why is this so? It’s because our victories, even when we achieve them, are all nevertheless by the power and grace of God and are not of ourselves. If they were, we would be able to take some personal glory for our triumphs, and when we die we would bring our boasting into heaven. But our victories are not of ourselves. They are of God. And since they are not of ourselves, we will not boast either on earth or in heaven but will instead give God al the glory.
  4. And yet, we are to go on fighting and struggling against sin, and we are to do so with the tools made available to us, chiefly prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship, service to others, and the sacraments. We are never to quit in this great battle against sin. We are to fight it with every ounce of energy in our bodies and with our final breath. Only then, when we have finished the race, having kept the course, may we rest from warfare.

I close this study by suggesting that a gospel in which we must do everything possible to attain a victory over sin – but in which, in spite of all we do or can do, the victory when it comes is by God alone and not by us or for our glory – a gospel like that must be from God; it could never have been invented by man. The very nature of our gospel is proof of its divine origin.

The Christian life is not easy. No responsible person ever said it was. It is a battle all the way. But it is a battle that will be won. And when it is won, we who triumphed will cast our crowns at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ who worked in us to accomplish the victory, and we will praise Him forever.

Romans 7:21-24 Reflection Questions:

What dilemma does Paul highlight in the closing verses of the chapter (vv. 21-24)?

How is Jesus the solution to the problem for Israel?

What do God’s desire, plan and fulfillment through Jesus to rescue us from this dilemma reveal to you about God’s character and purposes?

Take some time to simply praise God for His act of mercy in His rescue of you and others you know. Praise Him for His attributes, His power and His compassion.

*J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1984), pp. 258-261