The Lord’s Day
June 14, 2009
Chapter in the Bible (2):
Dr. J. Ligon
“O come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before
the Lord, our maker, for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the
flock under His care.” Let us worship Him.
Our Lord and our God, we come into Your presence
and we declare by the grace of Your Holy Spirit that You are the one true God,
and our Father through Jesus Christ our Lord. And so we praise You, Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit, for You are not only the creator of this world, You are the
author of our salvation. We come to You only in Jesus’ name. We dare not trust
the sweetest frame, but we only cling to Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid rock,
we stand; all other ground is sinking sand. So we come by the cross. We know
that we don’t deserve to be Your children. We know that we don’t deserve to be
acquitted and forgiven and pardoned, but You’ve done this; and You’ve done this
through the blood, the death of Your own Son, and You’ve called us to Him. We
trust in Him by the gospel, and we come now in His name to worship You, to give
to You the glory due Your name. So receive that praise and speak to us, Lord,
through Your word. Speak to us as Your word is read; speak to us as Your word is
proclaimed; hear our prayers as we pray Your word back to You, and our songs as
we sing Your word back to You, and inhabit the praises of Your people. Make the
words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts to be acceptable in Your
sight, O Lord, our rock and our salvation. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Romans 8 as we continue our way through this great chapter in a series
that Derek has provocatively entitled “The Best Chapter in the Bible.” Last week
we looked at verses 1-4, a passage that simultaneously reminds us about how we
are able to grow in grace despite our ongoing battle against indwelling sin, and
it points us to the basis of our security and our assurance of salvation in
God’s declaration of free justification in Jesus Christ.
Now if you would look at this whole chapter, I
want to walk across the chapter with you for a few moments so that you can see
how many encouragements the Apostle Paul has in store for you, and I think
you’ll understand why Derek chose this chapter for our summer study.
In the passage we’re looking at today and in a
couple of verses following it, we’ll see an emphasis on how you can tell the
difference between godliness and worldliness. (And I’ll explain why a little
bit later today.) This is something that Paul addresses in the midst of a
chapter which on the whole is positive and comforting and encouraging. Why this
section in which we go about discriminating between those who are godly and
those who are worldly, or giving us instruments whereby we can discriminate in
ourselves — whether our hearts are set on godliness or worldliness? Why would
Paul speak about that? I’ll try and address that today in the message.
But then, if you look at verses 12-17, you’ll see
an emphasis on how the Holy Spirit shows us that we are the children of God.
There is a real sense in which the whole of Romans 6, 7 and 8 is focused on how
grace reigns in righteousness. In other words, how does the grace of God work in
the lives of believers? And Paul is exploring that in each of those three
chapters, and especially in chapter 8 he is focusing on the role of the Holy
Spirit in the Christian life, and he’s reminding us how absolutely essential the
Holy Spirit is to our living of the Christian life. And in verses 12-17, he’ll
emphasize that it’s the Spirit who shows us that we are the children of God.
Then if you look at verses 18-25, he will explain
to you how your present sufferings serve your future glory. Now that’s
something worth knowing about and hearing about, I think. And that’s yet another
reason why Derek thought this would be such a good chapter to work through this
Then if you look at verses 26-27, Paul teaches you
how the Holy Spirit intercedes for you. Now, you know that you’re supposed
to intercede and you know that Jesus is interceding for you at the right hand of
God the Father Almighty. Did you know that the Holy Spirit intercedes for you?
He does, and Paul will explain how and why in these two verses.
Then if you look at verses 28-30, you learn how
you can be certain that God’s promises will be fulfilled to you.
In verses 31-32, Paul tells you how much God
is for you. In verses 33-34, Paul explains to you how secure you are in
God’s justification. And, in verses 35-39, Paul explains how you can be
more than a conqueror, even if you feel like a sheep being led to slaughter.
Now all of those things are obviously very relevant
for the living of the Christian life in a world filled with many dangers, toils,
and snares, and this is one reason why Derek chose this passage to work through
We’re looking today at verses 5-8. Look at those
verses with me and let me just outline them for you, because this passage is a
passage about discrimination — about distinguishing between two things, and in
this case it’s distinguishing between two ways of life that indicate two states
Why would that be important for Paul to do? Because
Paul wants you to understand who all these comforts are for in Romans 8, because
these comforts are not for everybody. These comforts are for those who are
trusting in Christ. These comforts are for those who have been born again. These
comforts are for those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. To use Paul’s
language in Romans 8:5, these comforts are for those who are “walking after the
Spirit…who are living according to the Spirit.” And so it’s very important for
us to distinguish between whether we’re walking after the flesh or walking after
the Spirit, because that will change the way that we approach and appropriate
this passage. It’s not that this passage doesn’t speak to you if you’re walking
after the flesh: it’s just that it speaks to you in a different way than it
speaks to those who are trusting in Christ, those who know the Lord Jesus Christ
savingly in the gospel. And so Paul is concerned to help us understand how we
can know that distinction, and he does it in four ways in this little passage.
If you look at verse 5, the first thing that he
does is he gives you the characteristic of a person who’s walking according to
the flesh and a person who’s walking according to the Spirit. You need to
see a parallelism in verse 5 — those who live according to the flesh — those who
live according to the Spirit. And so he’s helping you distinguish between those
two because so often people look the same on the outside. You can have
irreligious people (people that never darken the door of the church, and yet
they’re kind and nice and they do good things) and very often they can look just
like people who say that they trust God and say that they believe in the gospel,
and say that they embrace Jesus Christ as He’s offered in the gospel. So how do
you tell the difference between someone who’s walking according to the flesh and
walking according to the Spirit? Paul begins to unpack that in verse 5.
Then in verse 6, Paul points you to the
consequence of either walking according to the flesh or walking according to the
Spirit. He tells you this is invariably the consequence of a life which
walks according to the flesh and a life which walks according to the Spirit.
Then if you look at verse 7, he then zeroes in
simply on those who are walking according to the flesh and he gives this
diagnosis. He says here is the root cause of the condemnation which he has
announced for those who walk according to the flesh in verse 6…the root cause is
announced in verse 7. And then he gives a “can’t” in verse 8. Again, he’s
only speaking of those who walk according to the flesh, and he tells you
something that they can’t do…something that they are absolutely incapable of
doing, and it’s that “can’t” that makes the gospel absolutely necessary for the
salvation of anyone who is captured by the flesh. And so we get to hear the
gospel even in this “can’t.”
So, in verse 5 you get the characteristic; in
verse 6 you get the consequence; in verse 7 you get the root cause of the
condemnation of those who are walking according to the flesh, and then in verse
8 you get a “can’t”–something that those who are walking according to the flesh
Well, let’s pray before we read and hear God’s word.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. It is a savor
of life to those who believe in Jesus Christ, but it is offensive and a savor of
death to those who are dying. Lord, I pray that even today You would awaken to
new life those who are dead in trespasses and sins. By Your word, by Your Spirit
do this today as the word is read. And I pray that You would strengthen and
encourage those who are alive by the Holy Spirit and who walk with Him. This I
ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God in Romans 8, beginning in verse
“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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
From God’s perspective (and in the end that’s the
only perspective that matters), there are fundamental differences between those
who are in Christ and those who are not; between those who are in the Spirit and
those who are in the flesh; between those who seek first the kingdom and its
righteousness and those who do not, but rather who seek their own kingdom;
between those who are believers and those who are not; between those who embrace
the gospel and those who do not; between those who are alive to God in Jesus
Christ and those who are dead in trespasses and sins. There are fundamental
differences between those, even though sometimes on the outside we look very,
very similar. Many of you know, just like I know, unbelievers…some who never
darken the door of the church, some who would be very upfront with you about the
fact that they don’t believe in God and they don’t believe in an afterlife, and
they don’t believe in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and Jesus as the only way
of salvation. Some of you, like me, know people like that who are very, very
nice. And intelligent. And kind. They’re giving. They may even give themselves
to causes of social justice and well-being that actually make us feel a little
ashamed and make us wish that we did more to help others.
And yet the Apostle Paul, speaking
under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says when it gets down to it
there’s a fundamental difference between those who in Christ and those who are
So here’s the $64,000 question: How do you tell
the difference? How do you distinguish between those that look good on the
outside but aren’t in Christ, and those who are in Christ? How do you tell the
difference? Well, Paul answers that question here and in the process teaches us
much more than that.
I. Characteristics of those who
live according to the flesh.
First of all, notice how he characterizes those
who are in the flesh and those who are in the Spirit — those who live according
to the flesh and those who live according to the Spirit. You see the
parallelism in verse 5:
“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.”
Now that phrase “set their minds on” is a typically pauline
phrase, and by mind he means more than just your intellect. He means the
whole of who you are in your inmost being. He means the way you think, the
things that you would choose (given the opportunity to choose them), the things
that you desire, the things that you’re interested in, your ambitions…the inmost
core of your heart. That’s what he means: that they set their minds on the
flesh. There, Paul says, is a fundamentally distinguishing characteristic of
those for whom all the comforts that are enumerated in Romans 8 are not theirs.
They set their minds on things of the flesh.
Derek often likes to ask us the question, “What do
you think about when you’re not thinking about anything else?” One reason he
likes to ask us this question is it gets you to thinking about what your mind is
set on. In your thinking is your thinking set on the things of the Spirit, or is
it set on the things of the flesh? What do you think about when you’re not
thinking about anything else? In your choosing, when it’s left up to you and no
one or very few other people are going to know what you choose, what do you
choose? In your desiring, what are your deepest desires? In your ambitions, what
are your ambitions? In your interests, what are your interests? Paul is saying
your mind and what it is set on will point you to what you value most. Do you
value the things of the Spirit, or do you value the things of the flesh? And so
he’s giving you a diagnostic whereby we can know the difference between those
who are in Christ and those who are not, those who are godly and those who are
not. What is their mind set on?
When William Carey, the father of the modern missions
movement, chose to leave his trade and go to the mission field — risking his
life, throwing away any of the opportunities of advancement in a trade and the
wealth and security and comfort that would come with that — an employer of his
interviewed him about this to try and find what in the world could possibly be
his motivation for doing this. And having heard William Carey explain all of the
obstacles and the dangers and the lack of remuneration and earthly benefits that
was going to result from his leaving his work in the shoe shop in London and
going to the mission field, his employer said, “You’re mad! You are absolutely
crazy to do what you’re about to do.”
The reason that that man said that William Carey was
mad was because he was in the flesh and he cared more about the flesh than the
things…. William Carey cared about things like people going to hell. He cared
about sharing the gospel. He cared about people growing in grace, and coming to
see their Savior’s face. That’s what he cared about, but this employer of his
had no concern for this.
A friend of mine was a brilliant student at MIT and
headed for a very successful (and, very frankly, lucrative) career when he felt
a call to gospel ministry. And when he went in to sit down with his supervisor
at MIT to tell him that he was leaving MIT and the PhD program to go to
seminary, his professor said, “You are out of your mind. You are on a track
where you will work for one of the most prestigious companies in the world. You
will not only make a lot of money, you will be influential. You will be able to
be an influence in your field. You will be prominent. You will have social
standing. You are throwing all of that away. Or, if you don’t go to the private
sector, you can have powerful influence in the government of the United States.
Don’t throw all this away!” He said this because he was in the flesh. My friend
cared about people going to heaven, coming to know Jesus Christ. He felt a call
to the ministry, and this uncomprehending man thought that it was of no value
Now that doesn’t mean that if you’re in the flesh
you’re going to stay in your job and if you’re in the Spirit you’re going to
quit your jobs and go to seminary and you’re going to go to the mission field,
and you’re going to become preachers. You can stay right in the job that you’re
in right now and be in the Spirit and serve the Lord with all your heart and
soul and mind and strength. But the issue is What do you think is important in
life? Paul’s giving a diagnostic in verse 5.
II. Consequence of living
according to the flesh.
And then he says here’s the consequence. If
your mind is set on the things of the flesh, here’s what’s going to happen.
Death! God’s judgment — death! And here’s what is going to happen if your mind
is set on the Spirit: life and peace. It’s invariable.
Now the irony is here that people whose mind is set
on the flesh don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘How can I destroy my life
today? Let me see if I can choose something that will ruin my life. Let me see
if I can follow a desire that will lead me to destruction.’ (“There is a way
that seems right to a man, but in the end, that way leads to destruction.”) We
have a little saying that goes, “The road to hell is paved with good
intentions.” People who are in the flesh don’t wake up in the morning and say,
‘I’d like to ruin my life today,’ but anytime you walk according to the flesh
you are destroying yourself. Paul just wants to make that clear, because so
often people who are in the flesh think that they are “living the life” and it’s
these poor people who are in the Spirit who are missing the boat. Paul says it’s
actually the other way around. If you’re in the flesh (if you’re living
according to the flesh, if your mind is set on things of the flesh), you’re
killing yourself and you’re setting yourself up for God’s final judgment.
It is those, in fact, who set their minds on the
things of the Spirit that know life and peace, and in this passage Paul is going
to describe Christians undergoing the most excruciating trials, and he’s going
to say, ‘Christian, in the midst of those trials I’ve got a word for you: God
intends for you to know life and peace not by escaping those trials, but even as
you go through them. But for those who are in the flesh, there is no life and
peace.’ You know this, don’t you? You’ve had two friends, one of whom was a
believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and one of whom was not, and the same thing
happened to them. And the believer grew, and there was joy and there was peace;
and the unbeliever died a little, and virtues disappeared, and bitterness and
cynicism crept in. The same thing happened — two different results. Death — life
III. Why do people live
according to the flesh?
Then Paul zeroes in on the root cause. You see it
in verse 7. Why is it that those whose minds are set on the flesh…why is it that
they die? Why is it that they’re on the road to destruction? Because, he
says (verse 7), “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, it does
not submit to God’s law; it cannot.” Why? Because the mind that is set on the
flesh is all about me! I’m God! What I want is what I want. I don’t care
what God wants. What I think is what I think. I don’t care what God thinks. What
I choose is what I choose. I don’t care what God tells me to choose. It’s all
about me. The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. There are religious
people who can have their mind set on the flesh. I remember in a church that I
once attended a family joined from what we would call a fundamentalist
background. (I’m not using that as a pejorative as it often is used; that’s how
they would have described themselves.) They went to fundamentalist churches all
their lives and they went to a fundamentalist college, and they joined our
church because our pastor was a faithful preacher of God’s word. But as much as
I loved that family, I did notice that they were very judgmental towards other
people in the congregation. They were quick to say when they saw other people
doing things that they thought were wrong. They were quick to say, “That person
is out of accord with God’s word.” After being a member of our congregation for
many years, the oldest daughter of that family left her husband and her five
children after having had an affair with a man, and became married to him.
I was surprised by two things. First of all, she was
utterly unrepentant of what she had done. There were absolutely no grounds for
what she had done. It was all about her. Nothing that justified her actions and
leaving her children to pursue this relationship. The second thing that stunned
me was the reaction of the patriarch of the family, because this man whom I’d
often seen make judgments about other people not living up to the word reacted
violently when the elders of the church patiently and kindly and lovingly, but
firmly, began to enter into the process of discipline of his daughter. He was
infuriated. And it struck me, isn’t it interesting that this family, when they
saw other people and the choices of their lives violating the word of God, they
were incensed; but when it came to their own desires and those desires came in
conflict and intention with God’s commands, which one won? Not God. Their
So here’s your test, friends. In your thinking,
when your thinking comes into conflict with what God says in His word, who wins?
You or God’s word? In your choices, when your choosing comes into conflict
with God’s word, who wins? You or God? In your desires, in your interests, in
your ambitions, when they come into conflict with what God says in His word, who
wins? It is often at those crisis points in life that we really show our true
colors. When our thinking, our choosing, our desiring comes into conflict with
God’s word, sometimes we will show that in the end we were God, not God. And
others of us will show “God is my God.”
Now that is not to say that true Christians do not
stumble and fall in some very spectacular ways. Peter denied his Lord. He chose
Peter over Jesus. But he did it bitterly and he repented of it, and it was not
characteristic of Peter’s life to deny his Lord. In fact, one day he would die
for his Lord. Judas liked money, and he betrayed his Lord and he never repented
of it. So, yes, believers can stumble in some spectacular ways in these areas,
but there is such a thing as a bent, a tendency, a whole tenor of life — and
that’s what Paul talks about when he talks about living according to the flesh
and living according to the Spirit. He’s giving you a diagnostic. So ask
yourself the question, “When my thinking and my choosing and my willing and my
desires come into conflict with God, who wins?” And if I win, no matter how
religious I am, I’m hostile to God because I’m choosing me over Him, and I’m
choosing my wants over His words.
IV. Why living by the flesh and
law cannot save.
And that leads Paul to this astounding statement
in verse 8:
“Those who are in the flesh
cannot please God.”
You understand. Paul, in that one verse, explains to you
why the law can’t save you. If you’re dead in sin and hostile to God, this
message “be good” does not do you any good! If you’re dead in sin and hostile to
God, the message “do this and live” is death for you. You need another message,
and here’s that message: “You must be born again.”
Do you understand that Paul in Romans 8:8 is
virtually duplicating what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3? ‘Nicodemus, unless
you are born again, you cannot even see the kingdom of God.’ So you see there is
good news for those in the flesh, even in Romans 8:5-8, and here’s the good
news: The good news is that Jesus has died so that you can have new life. But
you must have that new life, or you will die.
There is nothing that you can do for yourself to
get this new life. Jesus must do what is necessary for you to have this new
life, and the Holy Spirit must bring you to life. But if you find yourself
this morning under conviction that you have for a long time been walking after
the flesh — maybe it’s that you have your mind set on things that in and of
themselves are good, but they are more important to you than God is; they’re
more important than His word, His calling, His people, and His gospel; they’re
good things in and of themselves, but you love them more than you love God.
You’re in the flesh. Or maybe your heart’s set on sinful things. God says in His
word don’t do these things, but you’re getting pleasure from what you’re doing
and you thumb your nose at God and you say ‘I’m getting pleasure from this; I
have no intention of quitting.’ You’re in the flesh. If you find yourself in
that place but under conviction this morning, then you need to be born again.
You need to throw yourself at the feet of Christ and say, “Christ, save me.
Christ, forgive me. Spirit, change me.”
When the announcement of my sabbatical was published
by Claude Harbarger in The First Epistle, a godly lady in the
congregation wrote to me to say some kind words of encouragement. And then she
said, “Wouldn’t it be glorious if this summer as Derek and Nate and Jeremy and
Billy and Tom preach the word morning and evening…wouldn’t it be glorious if God
came in a visitation to this congregation and quickened us and revived us, and
did a work of grace in our midst?” I thought it was a beautiful sentiment on her
part. I join in that prayer. Maybe in Romans 8:5-8 God is beginning today to say
a special word to your heart, where you are, in your pew. Are you walking
according to the flesh, or are you walking according to the Spirit?
If you’re walking
according to the Spirit today, all the comforts of Romans 8 belong to you.
Revel in it this summer.
If you’re walking according to the flesh, then
none of these comforts belong to you. You need new life, and you need pardon and
acceptance, and acquittal and forgiveness, and you can only find that in the
Dear friends, do not fail to harken to God’s word
today. You must be born again.
Heavenly Father, all of us, whether we’re in the
flesh or in the Spirit, all of us need the mind of Christ, our Savior. If we are
in the Spirit, our minds are set on things of the Spirit; then make our minds to
be more like Christ, our Savior. If we are in the flesh and our minds are set on
us, then Lord God, give us a new mind — the mind of Christ, our Savior. This we
ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you take your hymnals in hand and turn with me
to No. 624, and let’s sing May the Mind of Christ, My Savior.
Grace, mercy, and peace
to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. Amen.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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