Sanctification – Life in the Spirit

By Mike Ratliff

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. For 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. (Romans 8:5-8 ESV)

5οι γαρ κατα σαρκα οντες τα της σαρκος φρονουσιν οι δε κατα πνευμα τα του πνευματος 6το γαρ φρονημα της σαρκος θανατος το δε φρονημα του πνευματος ζωη και ειρηνη 7διοτι το φρονημα της σαρκος εχθρα εις θεον τω γαρ νομω του θεου ουχ υποτασσεται ουδε γαρ δυναται 8οι δε εν σαρκι οντες θεω αρεσαι ου δυνανται (Romans 8:5-8 WHNU)

One thing that has become very obvious in the comment sections of the last few posts on Sanctification. There are a lot of people out there who confuse Justification and Sanctification. They are not the same thing at all. I make statements about God working in us to develop Christ’s very character in us through our Sanctification in which we obey Him, deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. He takes us through fiery trials to mature us. Then the alarms go off and here come the naysayers who proclaim that I am teaching works theology. Well if I was talking about our Justification then I would agree, but that is not what Sanctification is all about. Also, there have been some, who I believe are disciples of Tim Keller, that say we are not to try to obey God, to keep His commandments, because no one can keep them. Really? I agree that no one can keep them perfectly, but we are commanded to obey our Lord, keeping His commandments and when we fail, we apply 1 John 1:9 and get back in the race. This life in the Spirit is not a life of replacing obedience with clinging to the foot of cross. Aren’t we supposed to do both? 

Please carefully read Romans 8:5-8 which I placed at the top of this post. Who are those who live according to the flesh? These are unbelievers whether they are professing Christians or not. Therefore, we know that those who live according to the Spirit are genuine believers. Upon what do those who live according the flesh set their minds? Their minds are set on the things of the flesh, that is, the things that the sin nature within demands in order to seek fulfillment. What about those who live according to the Spirit? They, being new creations, set their minds on the things of the Spirit. The Greek verb translated here as “set their minds” is φρονουσιν. This verb is in present tense, indicative mood, and active voice. Therefore, it is describing action occurring as the statement is made. It is a truth. The verb φρονουσιν describes a basic orientation of the mind. In other words, it is a mind-set that includes one’s affections, mental processes, and will (cf. Philippians 2:2, 5; 3:15, 19; Colossians 3:2). So, what is this truth? The truth is that those of the flesh have a mind-set that is based entirely in the things of the flesh, while those born of the Spirit have a mind-set based in the things of the Spirit.

Those with the mind-set based in the flesh are spiritually dead and unless God intervenes in their lives to save them, they will end up in eternity separated from God. On the other hand, those with the mind-set based in the Spirit have life and peace with God. The fleshly mind-set is hostile to God and has no peace with Him because it does not submit to His Law. Those in the flesh cannot please God. Here the naysayers would interject that since no one can keep the Law we do not have to be obedient. Is this what Paul is teaching?

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. (Romans 8:9-11 ESV)

All who have the Holy Spirit are in Christ and are in the Spirit and, therefore, not among those who are in the flesh. What does it mean that the Spirit of God dwells in those who in the Spirit? This Greek word, οικει, refers to being in one’s own home. In other words, the Spirit of God makes His home in every person who trusts in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit produces fruit in the believer (Galatians 5:22; 23). Without this fruit being manifest in the character, a professing Christian has no legitimate claim to Christ as Saviour and Lord. My brethren, much of the confusion about genuine Sanctification is based in a misunderstanding of the vv10-11. Here they are, “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.” Our bodies are unredeemed. Paul tells us that they are spiritually dead. Therefore, we are not about redeeming the flesh in our Sanctification. Instead, we are about obeying the Lord because He is our Lord. Just because we do so imperfectly does not mean we do not, by the power of the Spirit of God, obey Him. In this we witness abilities to obey God that we never could do without the Spirit of God working in us. We are not working to earn salvation. We are not working to earn favor with God. We are working and obeying the Lord because that is what we are commanded to do. We are given the ability to preach and teach, et cetera, by the Holy Spirit according to the will of God.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 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. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17 ESV)

Do you see it my brethren? All in Christ put to death the deeds of the body. How? They are led by the Spirit, and are able to suffer with Him in order that they may also be glorified with Him. In the midst of the fires of Sanctification, they often cry “Abba Father” In the pain and anguish of the attacks from the enemy and his seed. We put to death the deeds of the body by getting into the Word of God, prayer, worship, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we obey our Lord in all things. This includes taking a stand against the lies of the enemy now and then, which can be very costly. When our enemy strikes back as we are making progress in this battle for our spiritual maturity we must not retreat. Instead, let us move forward in the power of the Holy Spirit. We belong to the King of the Universe, who can take that relationship away? This is life in Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria!

11 thoughts on “Sanctification – Life in the Spirit

  1. I think that we are seeing an exponential rise in licentiousness (Christ is a license to sin). This is the cheap grace where its defenders reproach those who contend for the faith. Easy Believism really is licentiousness. There is no difference. Christ is an idol who never has anger, will never set his face against someone, and he would never harden a man’s heart.

    Even after regeneration, we should fear sin’s consequences. God will severely chasten his children when they are idle, complacent, and cannot be distinguished from the world. He is a perfect Father who does not do things halfway. When he puts the regenerate believer in the crucible, he sets out to remove whatever dross he sees fit. The heat of the trial reveals God’s holiness and his unchallengeable sovereignty. Trials and tribulations leave no room for idleness. Reprobate men are often idle.


  2. Hi Mike,
    Not only do I see it, I don’t see how it can be any other way than you are teaching. It is my personal experience, also. I must trust Him completely to be able to obey Him and that ability to trust comes from Him and the reading of His word. And how will I come to trust Him unless I know His great love for me? I have prayed for this revelation of His love to me. That is what I am learning, anyway.
    “In this we witness abilities to obey God that we never could do without the Spirit of God working in us.” Miraculous things like relationships restored, loving enemies, blessing those that betray you and so on.
    Oh, and we should not forget 1John 2:3-6 either.
    Thanks again,


  3. I am still smiling on the runs comment from yesterday … 🙂

    For some reason my brain sees things differently when reading the same scriptures as you guys so let me search for a the middle (not a concession) in the discussion on the last post. I hope you can honor this for the post for the loving intent it is meant in.

    The one difference I have and see (and I am not trying to take sides here) is some people really hate licensiousness (sp?) or the idea they think the Church is giving people a license to sin. Josh has mentioned this and you talk quite a bit on liberal theology over here. You dislike what you call worldly sin. I agree with that but I also believe legalism, or pharasaism is just as common and insideous as the licensiousness…. but its also more acceptable in the Christian ranks. As a matter of facts if you look at how Jesus approached his words in the Gospels its probably more difficult of a sin since most Christians are blind to ‘religious sin’, legalism,or pharasaism. Many people only see one side of sin — the worldly sin but not religious pride.

    I also dislike legalism because it inoculates people searching for Jesus Christ (ie sinners) against the Church and it creates these VERY common sanctuaries for saints of people who love to talk about moralism but do not electrify sinners to the foot of the cross. The Gospel is not licensiousness and its not legalism… and its not a halfway between the two approaches. Its a completely different path all together. Hence the name of my BLOG ( The Gospel tells us to look at both our religious, pharasaical pride as well as our worldly sin and says both are bad. This is why I am a big fan of a gospel-centric, Martin Luther, theology of the cross. Martin Luther took sin seriously and saw the idolatry or both worldly and religious sin.

    I know Steve (the Old Adam) and in his post yesterday he was NOT advocating licensiousness or antinomianism… he is advocating clearly seeing sin, however. One of the posts of his pastor on his BLOG was the idea that Christians don’t take their sin seriously enough which is a traditional Lutheran stance. The legalists in the days of Jesus were acutely aware of worldly sin but did not see their religious pride. Thats why steve questioned our motives. We may do the right “stuff” and do the right obedience but we quite often do them with the wrong motives. That was the problem with the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal son. The problem in this parable was not with the brother who missed the mark by mile, the problem was with the brother who missed the mark by an inch. Legalism, in all of its efforts, ultimately takes a very dim view of sin. This is also why Martin Luther coined the term antinomianism. He had to tell people if you think thats what I am then you are taking a dim view of sin. This is what Steve (theoldadam) would have said yesterday if he had to sit down and think over all the sides of the discussion.

    If we see both sides of sin then we understand how radical the Gospel, the cross, and grace really are. Without a knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the cross seems trivial and does not electrify or transform. But without knowledge of Christ’s completely satisfying life and death, the knowledge of sin would crush us or move us to deny and repress it. Take away either the knowledge of sin or the knowledge of grace and people’s lives are not changed by the Gospel.


  4. Well Jon, that’s all well and good, but you are overlooking several elements of this discussion that makes all the difference. First, I NOWHERE teach legalism. I do not advocate it. Steve was saying that we shouldn’t even try to obey God because that is legalism. No, what he was advocating is antinomianism. He also said that since we cannot perfectly keep the Law that we shouldn’t even be concerned about obeying our Lord. I tried to show him that we must obey the Lord Jesus and that he will give us the grace to do so, but he would not listen. He also refused to listen when I showed him what the actual word for “perfect” really meant in the Jesus Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was not telling us to be perfect, but mature. How do we become mature? We obey God by His grace in our humility and not by our will power. We deny self and take up our crosses and follow Jesus. He told us that he couldn’t do that so we shouldn’t even try, just go cling to the cross. This is like the a cake unturned. It is burnt crisp on one side and still uncooked on the other. You can’t overemphasis grace nor obedience. They must be in balance. We obey God because we know he will give us the grace to do so. It is wrong to overemphasis grace to the exclusion of the deep need we have to repent and obey God in all we do. God uses this to sanctify us. Also, you are overlooking the one ingredient in our salvation that makes all the difference. God is Sovereign and when he saves a person it is not because of the extent of their inoculation against the truth. He dragged me to faith, perhaps not as dramatically as He did with Paul, but I was inoculated against Christianity because I saw it as just an empty religiosity with no power to do anything. However, when he regenerated me, my mindset changed. All those man-centered excuses for not being a Church member, etc. made no sense after He gave me saving faith.


  5. Jon, I want you to really think about something. I teach directly from God’s Word. I try very hard to use commentaries only for emphasis of what God’s Word clearly teaches. This is why I am studying Greek and why I share what I am learning as I teach. The reason I do this is to get the proper interpretation from God’s Word, submit to it and teach it that God’s people will learn it, grasp it, as God uses it to mature them and bless them. That is why I have such a problem with those who try to derail or hijack what I am teaching by interjecting the teachings of men rather than what God’s Word teaches us. So much of the horrible teaching going on in the visible Church right now is due to those teaching them not going to the source, properly exegeting the text, and teaching as the Spirit of God leads, plus that those they are teaching never dig into the word correctly to “see if these things are so.” That is how we properly handle the Word of God, not by interpreting it according to culture, experience, or thinkology.

    When you said, “for some reason my brain sees things differently when reading the same scriptures as you guys,” that is red flag for me. Not that I am the source of truth, but God’s Word is. The clear teaching from His Word is found in the text not in our minds or experience or feelings or thinkology. The clear teaching from His Word is given to us by the Holy Spirit, but it will never be outside of the clear teaching that we find in the text. God is not not out of balance. He gives us both mercy and grace because without mercy we are headed for hell and without grace we could never have been given the faith to believe and then grow in Christlikeness. However, that does not trump His Holiness, Righteousness, and Justice. We must obey His moral law and the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ. We will fail, but that does not mean that we stop trying. We walk in repentance DAILY and the motivation for doing this is found when we see what God has done for us. We love Him and are grateful for our forgiveness and Justification and our Sanctification which is ongoing. We love Him and serve Him as we work out out salvation with fear and trembling. I fear that I am failing Him. I tremble when I see what a great thing our salvation is, what a miracle!

    Mercy is not receiving the judgment that we deserve.
    Grace is receiving God’s blessings that we do not deserve.

    It is important in understanding both Justification and Sanctification that we also understand the difference between mercy and grace.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  6. Mike,

    I understand where you are coming from but I hope you see my point as well. I agree on walking constantly in repentance. Like you, I prefer the word mercy over grace since it seems mercy can be less twisted by man — I agree with the premise of your point. I definitely do not believe or advocate cheap grace (another term coined by a Lutheran, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)!

    Keep in mind as you read me is I am trying to repent and see ALL sin just like you so we can move away from our worldy selves. Our goal is much the same but the methods are different.

    As I ‘contend’ for my points I hope you at least see that part.

    In Christ,



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