Living In The Flesh Verses Living In The Spirit

Grace For The Journey

Today we are again in Romans 8.  We will be looking at verse 12-17 where Paul contrasts living in the flesh and its results with living by the Spirit and its results.  Paul begins this section by explaining the believer’s relationship to the flesh.

Living In The Flesh.

The Believer’s Relationship To The Flesh.

Verse 12 states, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.”  As we have seen over the last several days in our study of Romans, the person who is justified by faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ has no obligation to the flesh. We have no debt to the flesh.  We have no duty to the flesh.  It has no right to compel us to do its bidding.

Paul has explained the reason for this in chapters 6 and 7.  In chapter6, verse 6 he said, “Our old self was crucified with Christ so that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”  God and His righteousness are our new masters.  Sin has no right to tell us what to do.  Christ has broken the law’s jurisdiction over us and joined us to Himself (7:1,4) so that we are released from the law and serving it in the oldness of the letter and are now bound to Him and serving in the newness of the Spirit (7:6).  This is important, for though the law is holy, righteous and good (7:12), it was used by our old sinful natures to produce in us more sin.  The result had been our conviction of and condemnation for sin. But the believer has been changed.

Yes, as Romans 7:14-25 points out, Christians still struggle against the sin that still exists within what Paul refers to as the “flesh,” that part of us that remains corrupt while awaiting final redemption when we go to heaven.  Yet, the believer has a new nature that is in conflict with this flesh and he fights against it.  The unregenerate cannot do that for they are slaves to sin.  Even their best efforts to do good fall short and are filthy before our holy God.  They cannot “joyfully concur with the law in the inner man” (7:22).  The true Christian does do this for he recognizes the spiritual nature of the law, and even though it reminds him of his continual failure to live in perfect holiness, he now strives to fulfill the law out of his love for God.  Though the body of flesh still struggles with sin, the Christian’s mind is set on “serving the law of God” (7:25).

The true Christian is justified by his faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so he is no longer under God’s condemnation (8:1).  His sins are forgiven, and He is clothed with the righteousness of Christ.  As wonderful as that is, if we were left in our flesh to battle sin by ourselves in this life, we would have very miserable lives.  We, like Paul in 7:24, would be continually crying out to be “freed from the body of this death.”  God gave us something additional so that we can win in our battle against the flesh.  The Holy Spirit sets us “free from the law of sin and of death” (8:2).  Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit we are enabled to fight against the flesh and win.  We will not have complete victory in this life because at times we will try to do things in our own power instead of His, but through the Holy Spirit are lives should be marked by less sin and more holiness.  The Holy Spirit also enables us to fulfill the righteous duties God has revealed to us in His word (8:4).

The true Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling within them (8:11) as part of the new covenant.  Non-Christians and those with false professions of faith do not.  As I pointed out from verse 9 yesterday, either you have the Holy Spirit and you belong to Christ, or you don’t and you are not a Christian.  Anyone who teaches that the Holy Spirit comes upon the Christian as a separate act sometime subsequent to salvation is teaching a false doctrine.  1 Corinthians 12:13 even makes it clear that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit comes upon the believer at salvation, otherwise they are not part of Christ’s body.

The true evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a person is seen in the fruit of the Spirit which Paul lists in Galatians5:22-23, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.”  How is that fruit generated in the Christian?  It arises from the mind-set of the individual, which in turn reveals the true spiritual nature of the person.  The mind set on the flesh is death, for it is hostile to God (8:6,7).  The mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace.  The importance of having a proper mind-set in order to live for Christ and evidence true salvation cannot be stressed enough.  That is why Paul stresses it again here in verse 12.

Again, as Romans 7:14-25 explains, the Christian is in a struggle against the flesh.  It is a battle that he will lose at times, but the primary reason for defeat is what he has set his mind on.  If he sets it on the flesh, then he will obey sin, and it will be his master.  If he sets it on the Spirit, then he will obey righteousness, and it will be his master (6:16).  The problem we often have is that at times we think or feel like we have no choice but to sin.  That is simply not true, but it is the reality of how we think and feel at times.

We have God’s promise that He will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but with the temptation, He is faithful to provide a way of escape that we may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).  We succumb to the temptation because it is attractive to our flesh, which includes our corrupt thoughts and our pride (1 John 2:15-16), and so we consider it and yield to it if our mind set is to fulfill the flesh’s desires.  But as Paul says here in 8:12, the Christian has no obligation to the flesh.  We do not have to give in to it.  We do not have to live according to it.  That is a key element that makes the true believer different from the person who has a false profession of faith.  The true Christian will stumble in sin and fall at times, but he is not characterized by catering to his sinful flesh (8:5), and even when he does fall, it is contrary to his true desires (7:23,25).  The false Christian is characterized by catering to their flesh.  They may make effort to do some good things, but they are not done for the glory of God.  Their mind set and life is actually one in which they are living according to the flesh.

Evidence of Living in the Flesh – Galatians 5:19-21.

What is the evidence of living in the flesh?  I spoke about this briefly yesterday and pointed out Galatians 5:1-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions dissensions, heresies,  envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.”  This cannot be considered a comprehensive list for Paul adds on a qualifier at the end, “and the like,” that tells us there are more things that could be listed.  This is rather a sample of areas where the flesh leads.  But let’s take a closer look at this list and see what they reveal to us about those that live according to the flesh.

Sexual Immorality.

This refers to all sexual sins.  Those who live in the flesh view their sexuality as something that must be fulfilled, which is not true.  It is reserved for marriage only.  They also approach it as getting pleasure for themselves rather than God’s design which is for it to occur only within marriage as an act of vulnerability, intimacy and giving of yourself to your spouse.


This is moral impurity, dirty. It is the mind set of fornication. It would include pornography, lewdness, and obscene jokes.  It differs from “porneia” only in that this is mental rather than physical.  It is the filthy mind that could lead to immoral actions if the opportunity arises.


This is lasciviousness, being unbridled in lust, without restraint.  It is shameless conduct.  It seeks to satisfy the flesh by doing whatever feels good regardless of its impropriety or offense to others.


This is worshiping a false god.  Those living according to the flesh do not want to know the true God because that would make them uncomfortable, to say the least, in their sin.  They make up a god for themselves that will either accept them or which they can appease in some way.


This is “magical arts” of potions, etc.  We get our word, “pharmacy,” from it.  These are drugs.  Those who live according to the flesh are quick to use drugs if they will give the desired effect.  We live in a society that has latched onto this in a big way in both street drugs and prescription drugs.  I am not referring to taking medications for genuine medical health reasons, but taking drugs because they make you feel a certain way. The mind that is set on the flesh wants to only experience good emotions, so if drugs will give you those, or help you escape bad emotions, then that is great.  The truth is that God has given us the capacity for both positive and negative emotions.  The negative emotions are valuable tools in the process of maturing us into godliness (James 1, Romans 5).  We should work through them, not escape them.  There are also those drugs given because it is easier to do than have the self-control necessary to avoid something, often diet related, that gives you a problem, including eating too much food.  There are also the drugs given to control people.  I am thinking especially of the many, many children that are on now on behavior modification drugs. So much of it could be avoided with proper diet and discipline in the home, but it is easier for the parent to give their child a couple of pills.  That is living in the selfishness of flesh instead of doing what is best.


This is hatred, active hostility toward others. It is the opposite of love. When you live in the flesh you see other people as competition that must be crushed, or as enemies that must be subjugated.  This is the mental and emotional driving force that will express itself in several of the characteristics that follow.


This involves contention, quarrels, and fighting.  It is the outward expression of enmity, it is the hatred put into action.  Arguing has a basis in logic and exchange of ideas.  Strife has no such basis.  Its only goal is to conquer and subject.  It becomes adversarial even over minor issues and resorts to yelling, berating, and name calling in order to get its way.


This is ambition to equal or surpass others.  Those living in the flesh cannot be content when someone else has something they do not, so the effort is made to get the same or surpass. While this may be expressed in the materialism of effort to “try and keep of with the Joneses.”  The root is the idea that you are the equal or better of everyone else, so it is also expressed in areas of honor, prestige, or position.

Outbursts of Anger.

This refers to uncontrolled temper, fits of rage or anger that boils up and over.  The mind-set of the flesh has little or no self-control and so the enmity that is present will erupt when something blocks you from getting what you want.  This may explode in a violent rage of words or physical force, or it may remain relatively calm, but the effort will be made to destroy the opposition.


Mercenary, selfish ambition, to court by any means to gain for self or cause.  It is used of those electioneering, and it leads to strife & disputes.  Those who live according to the flesh seek to use other people for their own purposes.


This means, “to stand apart,” and refers to those will not work as part of the team.  The mind-set on the flesh cannot humble itself to subject itself to the will of others unless they can gain something for themselves through it.  If you don’t play their way, they will take their ball and go home.  Dissension leads to the next character.


This refers to divisions or sects based on people choosing to group together with those who share their opinion.  The mind-set on the flesh is more interested in finding other who will agree than in searching out the truth.  It can also refer to social groups that form that then exclude others.  We usually refer to these as cliques.  They evidence minds set on the flesh for they are the opposite of the love Jesus told us we were to have for one another.


This is resentment of others because they have prospered in some way more than you. Those who live in the flesh can only see life through their narrow little window, so they cannot rejoice when others do better or get ahead of them.  Among people who want to think themselves to be spiritual, but they really are not, this manifests itself in being envious of those who have more prominent spiritual gifts or a larger ministry.  And yes, I have seen it among men who call themselves pastors.


Being intoxicated.  The Bible says in Proverbs 31:6-7, “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitter of heart.  Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.”  Hopelessness and misery belong to those who walk in the flesh, and that is why they seek refuge in a bottle.  They want to escape their problems, but they are still their waiting when they sober up.


This refers to the riotous, noisy parties that result from drunkenness.  The inhibitions are gone so the flesh is free to satisfy itself.  There is a line of defense that is now used that argues a person is not responsible for their actions when they are drunk, as if the alcohol was the culprit.  The truth is that the alcohol simply pulled back the normal covering of restraint to reveal the debauchery that really exists in that person’s heart. They live according to the flesh.

The essence of all the deeds of the flesh is a selfishness that wants the world to work according to what you think is best for yourself, and so you labor at making it work that way.  The truth, God and other people are not really important in the quest.  You are the most important entity in the universe, so the goal is to satisfy the cravings of your body, please your thoughts and emotions and build up your ego.  Obviously, that is against God’s declaration that you are just a creature made for the glorification of Him.  God is the most important entity in the universe, not you.

Results of Living in the Flesh.

Paul gives the results of living in the flesh in verse 13, “Or 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.”  Paul’s point here is simply this . . .

Genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ

Results in some very significant

Changes in the individual.

Yes, the Christian will still struggle against sin, but he will no longer be characterized by it, for the true Christian is no longer obligated to the flesh and so no longer lives according to it.  The true Christian lives according to the Spirit and is putting to death the deeds of the flesh.  How you actually live reflects whether your mind is on the Spirit or the flesh.  If it is characterized by the flesh, then your profession of faith is false.  You are believing something other than the gospel.  You do not have the Spirit of Christ, therefore you do not belong to Him and you must die.

Living in the Spirit.

Living in the Spirit is radically different

Than living according to the flesh.

Paul explains this in verse 13 . . .

Its Effect On The Flesh.

Living according to the Spirit has a direct effect upon your flesh.  Paul had said back
in verse 8 that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”  But the opposite is also true.  Galatians 5:16 tells us that if you “walk by the Spirit, you will not carry out the deeds of the flesh; for the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

Notice that those living in the Spirit are “putting to death the deeds of the body.”  This is not something that is immediately accomplished, but something that is on-going.  This is what Paul is referring to when he calls on believers in Colossians 3:5 to “mortify,” or “put to death” the members of your earthly body.  True Christians are characterized by their struggle against the sins of the flesh.  The Christian will lapse into doing the deeds of
the flesh on occasion, but those deeds do not characterize them.

What does it mean to be “putting to death the deeds of the body?”  It means that the longer they walk in the Spirit, the less they will give into the deeds of the flesh.  The process is the same as breaking an old habit and developing a new one, except we also have the power of the Holy Spirit to help us in this process.  How do you break an old, bad habit?  First, you recognize and acknowledge that it is something that you do not want to continue to do.  Next, you ask the Lord’s forgiveness and His power in stop doing it.  You put that desire to death.  Then, you replace that bad habit with a new habit that is good.  Do that for a long time and it becomes your normal way of life.

When opportunity comes along to do your old habit, you remind yourself that you no longer want to do that and so refrain from doing it.  Instead, you practice the new habit you want to establish.  The Christian can call on the Lord for help in this.  This can be done with any deed of flesh.  For example: Let’s say a sinful habit you have had in living in the flesh is anger.  Something happens, you get angry and you lose your temper. How is that changed?  First, you recognize it is not a godly response. James 1:19-20
states, “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”  Colossians 3:8 tells us to “put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

I ask the Lord to convict me when I am in danger of asserting my own desire and will instead of seeking His.  If I find myself losing my temper, I stop, ask God’s forgiveness, and apologize to the individual.  I then surrender anew to the Holy Spirit and seek His power to replace this sinful habit with a new one that is good.  The Holy Spirit will lead me to think biblically – I remind myself that with humility of mind, I am to consider others as more important than myself – Philippians 2:3, and so as the Lord’s bondservant I “must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).  Proverbs has several verses that apply . . .

Proverbs 14:29 says, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts foll.”

Proverbs 15:1 states, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger pacifies contention”

The Holy Spirit has brought these truths to mind when I am in danger of giving into my flesh, and then I step forward in faith to do them and leave the results in God’s hands.  If I strive to control the results, then I am stepping back out in the flesh and taking what belongs to God.

The Bible teaches that there are four benefits of living in the Spirit . . .

1) Being Led By The Spirit And Being Able To Be A Part Of God’s Family.

The benefit of living in the Spirit is in verse 14, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”  When we follow the leading of the Spirit of God, we give evidence that we do indeed belong to Him and that we are sons of God.  We entered into this relationship when we received Christ as our savior.  The Bible tells us in John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name.”  This was a thrilling concept for John, the Apostle.  He marvels about it in 1 John 3:1, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.”

And indeed, all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  Those who are not Christians can claim God as their Creator, for such He is, but they cannot claim Him as Father, for they do not have such a relationship with Him.

2) Having Confidence Before God.

Being children of God gives us a confidence in coming before Him.  Paul says in verse 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!’”  We are God’s bondservants, but that does not mean we have the fearful relationship to Him that a slave would have.  We had that fear before being justified by faith in Christ, and it was a proper fear because we were under His condemnation.  But there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1).  

Instead, we have the spirit of adoption by which we not only can approach  God as our Father, but as the Bible says here, it is “Abba!  Father!”  This is not a formal relationship, but the rather the intimacy of loving relationship between parent and child.  “Abba” is the equivalent of us saying, “daddy.”

We have a great confidence in coming before God

Because of this intimacy of relationship

That is birthed and saturated with His great love.

And please understand that adoption is a greater love, for it chooses to give to one that is not naturally a member of the family.  It is normal and natural to love the child of your own flesh, but it is extraordinary to extend that love to a child who is of someone else’s flesh.

3) Having The Spirit’s Witness.

We have additional confidence before God because, as verse 16 states, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  Admittedly, this is subjective, but it is that inner knowledge that God’s people have within them that they are right with God and belong to Him.  It gives us assurance of our relationship to Him and our salvation, and by it we have confidence to go to God with our troubles, trials, and fears as well as our joys and triumphs.

The two other witnesses to our salvation are: 1) A changed life that reflects we are no longer walking in the flesh, but in the Spirit. 2) The witness of the Word of God to the truth and our commitment to believe and trust God’s promises.  When the devil accuses us of our sinfulness and the assurance based on our changed life is lost, we fall back to the witness of the Spirit with our spirit and then to the ground of truth in the promises of God’s Word.

4) Being Fellow Heirs with Christ.

In verse 17, Paul explains an additional blessing of being adopted sons of God, “And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”  As God’s children, we are His heirs and therefore fellow heirs with Christ.  We will hear those blessed words as we enter heaven, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).  We will be part of God’s
eternal kingdom.

Have you considered the magnitude of being “fellow heirs with Christ?”  This is slightly different than our normal concept of inheritance, for when we inherit from a relative’s estate, we only receive a portion of the total estate as designated in the will.  Often this means selling off the estates assets so that it can be divided.  But, as a fellow heir there is no division of this estate, but we all become fellow owners with Christ of heaven. That is why true Christians are heavenly minded.  If you are going to be inheriting heaven, who can be that excited about amassing an earthly estate which will all burn anyway?

Our being joint heirs is seen in our present reality of “suffering” with Christ.  By that, Paul is referring to the persecution that comes against all who strive to live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12).  The more we become like Jesus, the more the world will hate us because it hates Him (Matthew 5:10-12; John 15:20).  But that very suffering because of our identification with Jesus is assurance of our also being glorified with Him.

This the great hope of the Christian.  

It is that hope that drives the Christian

On in their battle against their own sin

As well as the temptations

And persecution of the world.

All who have this hope of being

Glorified with Jesus purify themselves

(1John 3:3).

What is your hope?  What marks your life?  Are you living according to the flesh?  Then be warned that you are bringing God’s wrath and condemnation upon yourself.  You do not have to continue to live that way.  You can find forgiveness for your sins in Jesus Christ and a new way of life through the Holy Spirit.

Are you living by the Spirit?  Then rejoice in your hope and continue putting to death the deeds of the flesh so that you might be further conformed to the image of our wonderful Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ.

This is God Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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