by Mike Ratliff
12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:12-14 (NASB)
If you are anything like me, looking closely at your walk before the Lord, the concept that sinful believers who vacillate between godliness and carnality with deliverance from those sins not in any way certain, then the concept that we are heirs with Christ is hard to grasp. I have no trouble with God’s absolute sovereignty, holiness, righteousness, justice, immutability, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. He is perfect. He is the most High. The problem is that I know that I am not in any way worthy enough to even be in His presence.
Professing Christians who believe that they earn their salvation or reach some level of godliness in order to deserve it are more than likely placing their trust for eternal life with Christ on the wrong thing. The Elect of God, who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ did not become Christians by doing anything to deserve grace. There is no character quality that gave them a “free pass” to salvation.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)
With this in the forefront of our minds, how do God’s Elect find deliverance from the sins they have lived with for their entire lives. Keep in mind that we are hopelessly flesh bound. The regenerate Heart is a New Creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) However, that regeneration is what enables God’s people to be saved, pray, worship and read and understand the Word of God. On the other hand, it does not bring perfection. It does not enable believers to “let go and let God,” thereby passively become perfect as God cleanses them miraculously. Also, there is no turning point decision on our part that will propel us into a higher level of holiness. Even though those all appear attractive to us in certain ways, none of them are biblical. So what does the believer’s status of being a heir with Christ have to with deliverance from their indwelling sin nature? The key is found in Romans 8:13.
13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13 (NASB)
We have looked at this many times. Let’s dig deeper. What does this very powerful verse tell us? There are two types of people. There are those who live according to the flesh and there are those who live by the Spirit. It is vital that we understand that Paul is not telling us that this is a decision we make. We don’t determine one day to start living by the Spirit and thereby turn the corner and become ever increasingly holy. Nor do genuine Christians live according to the flesh by falling away. Paul is telling us that anyone who is living according to the flesh and has no ability at all to live by the Spirit are spiritually dead. The spiritually alive person is a Christian. They may struggle mightily with sin, but they will never have peace with it. They will hate it. They will be utterly miserable when mired in sin. Why? Their regenerate heart contains the Holy Spirit and their conscience is open to God’s holiness. That means that sin puts a barrier between the Christian and God in regards to relationship or fellowship. It does not sever a believer’s saved status. It is a falling from grace in the sense that closeness with God is lost. The regenerate believer will be drawn to repent. They will never find any sort of fulfillment outside of their relationship with God. God may very well give them over to their passions, but there will never be a sense of contentment there. Tragically, many believers do harden their hearts through their disobedience and idolatry. They become spiritually blind and start believing all sorts of bad doctrine because God has given them over. I often wonder at the genuineness of some of these people, but it is God who will remove the tares from His church at the judgment. That is not our role in the Kingdom.
The genuine believer will find victory over their sin in only one way. Paul tells us in this passage that the Spirit provides us with the energy and power to continually and gradually be killing our sins, a process never completed in this life. How does the Holy Spirit do this? He uses the believer’s faithful obedience to the simple commands of Scripture. That’s right. There is no magic pill or esoteric formula to godliness. Our obedience in faithfulness as we depend on the power of the God to sustain us in fiery trials is His method of maturing us unto Christlikeness. (Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 3:16; Colossians 13:14; Psalms 1:2; Psalms 119:11; Luke 22:40; John 17:17; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 9:25-27; 1 Peter 2:11)
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. Romans 8:14-17 (NASB)
What does it mean that the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God? Many would say that this is through subjective mental impressions or promptings to make decisions. The Bible does not support that at all even though there are many leading “Christian” people who teach this very thing. Instead, God’s Spirit objectively leads Christians sometimes through the orchestration of circumstances (Acts 16:7) but primarily through illumination, divinely clarifying Scripture to make it understandable to our sinful finite minds (Luke 24:44-45; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Ephesians 1:17-19; Ephesians 3:16-19; Colossians 1:9; Colossians 2) and sanctification, divinely enabling us to obey Scripture (Galatians 5:16-17; Galatians 5:25).
When we faithfully “stay in bounds” in our walk by not going hard after new philosphies, or new teachings, or exciting new ways to pray and walk the walk, but remain faithful to walk this walk His way then we will find that we will be utterly dependent upon God for guidance and assurance instead of what we can think of and what we can do. We will be the “sons of God” being led by the Spirit into God’s truth. The assurance from this is bulletproof. He opens our hearts to understand how incredible our adoption into His family is. We may still struggle with our old sin nature, but we see the progress. We are given assurance that we are His children and He is working in our hearts to sanctify us for His glory and our ultimate glorification.
Soli Deo Gloria!