More Than Conquerors: The Believer’s Identity

Read Romans 8:5-17

In Romans 8:1-4, we learned that those who have trusted Christ are no longer under condemnation (v1), because “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has liberated them from “the law of sin and death” (v2).1 We also learned that, as a result of the sacrifice of Christ, we now have the potential to keep “the [righteous] requirement of the law” (v4 NASB). It is not that we have been put back under the Law, but as we seek to please the Lord who redeemed us, we do not transgress the Law. Paul wrote, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal 5:22,23). If you display Christlike behaviour, the Law cannot condemn you.

Now, notice that in Romans 7:13-25, where Paul describes the complete failure of a believer to honour the Lord, even though it is very evident that he desires to do so, there is not a single reference to the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, there are twenty references to the Holy Spirit in chapter 8. The absence of any reference to the Holy Spirit in Romans 7:13-25 is key to the failure and frustration of the man depicted in that context. He was depending on self-effort, that is, acting “according to the flesh” (8:5). This verse states, “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, the things of the Spirit” (NKJV). Two kinds of people are referred to here: “those who live according to the flesh,” referring to unbelievers, and “those who live according to the Spirit,” referring to believers. This will be made clear when we get to verses 8 and 9.

Care must be exercised when we read the word “flesh” in the New Testament, because it is used in a variety of ways and doesn’t always mean the same thing. Space will not allow us to show the different ideas expressed by the use of this word. In this context it is referring to the sinful nature that we have all inherited from Adam. In verse 5, Paul is stating that the unbelieving person is dominated in his thinking by what appeals to his natural instincts and desires. On the other hand, while he may not always make the right choices, it is characteristic of the believer, because he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, to make choices that are God honouring.

Romans 8:6 states, “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (NIV). Death in this context is not physical death, but the state of alienation from God, which ultimately will result in eternal separation from God, unless the person experiences salvation. On the other hand, the believer experiences the divine life that he received upon trusting Christ and the peace that accompanies that life. Verse 7 explains why the mind of the unbeliever is in a state of spiritual death: “[Because] the mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (NIV). Three words summarize the hearts of unbelievers – alienation (from God), insubordination and impotence (total inability to obey God). Paul draws the conclusion, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (v8). However hard the unbeliever tries, he cannot please God until he trusts Christ as his Saviour.

Now let us see how God identifies a genuine believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (v9 NASB). Here we see that in this chapter the expressions “in the flesh” and “after the flesh,” or “according to the flesh,” refer to people who have never trusted Christ. Verse 9 states clearly that every true Christian is permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Paul makes the same claim in Ephesians 1:13: “… in whom [i.e., in Christ] also, having believed, ye have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (JND). In this verse, Paul is referring to Gentiles who had trusted Christ, as a result of which they had immediately been sealed with the Holy Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit had indwelt them, establishing the fact that they had become God’s property. The last statement in Romans 8:9 is, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (NASB). This is a negative way of emphasizing that all believers are permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Now notice verse 10: “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” In this verse Paul is stating that the moment we trusted Christ, our spirits were quickened (or made alive), but our bodies remained unaltered. We were born with mortal bodies, that is, bodies that are subject to decay and ultimately death because of sin residing in our bodies. On the other hand, our spirits were made alive, because, as a result of the death of Christ, God has been able to righteously justify those who trust Him as their Saviour.

However, verse 11 goes on to state, “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” God has not finished with our bodies. In a day that is yet to come, our bodies, whether we have died and our bodies have decayed or whether we are living at the time, will be raised physically and reunited with our spirits. “The dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we [the living] shall be changed” (1Co 15:52). We will look at this in greater detail in a later article.

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.