I read a humorous story about a man who strolled out of a hardware store with a smile on his face and a brand-new chainsaw in his hands. He was told it could cut down five big oak trees in an hour. Twenty-four hours later, however, his smile was gone. Frustrated, he was back at the store complaining that the saw would never cut five trees in an hour. “It took me all day to cut down five trees,” he said.
Puzzled, the store owner stepped outside with the saw, gave the cord a swift pull, and fired up the steel-toothed beast. Its deafening roar sent the customer stumbling to get away. “What’s that noise?” he gasped.
There are many people who are just like this man in regard to their spiritual life. They hear about victory and transformation but they see little of that evidenced in their life. The reason for this, says Paul, in Romans 8, is because we have not made use of the power of God’s Spirit. Romans 8 teaches us how to walk in the Spirit.
In Romans 8:5-11 Paul speaks simply. He says there are two basic groups of people. There may be several categories under each group, but there are only two kinds of people: those led by the sinful nature and those led by the Spirit. Everyone is either in one group or another.
THOSE LED BY THE SINFUL NATURE (vv. 5-8)
To understand what it means to “live by the sinful nature” we need to look at some additional passages in the Bible. In Philippians 3:18 Paul says,
I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their future is eternal destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and all they think about is this life here on earth. [NLT]
In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul writes,
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, 20 idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Let’s try to summarize the person who follows after the sinful nature.
Their Favorite Word
The favorite and most important word to the person led by the sinful nature is “I”. These people measure everything by themselves. They have no other standard for what is right and wrong other than “what I want”.
The person who follows after the sinful nature has an uncanny ability to justify all their behavior.
- Instead of lying, they contend “truth is in the eye of the beholder”
- Stealing becomes “taking what I deserve”
- Immorality is excused by the fact that “what feels so good, can’t be wrong”
- Not paying taxes is excused by, “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” or “I’m already paying plenty”
- Laziness on the job is excused by saying, “this is what everyone is doing”
- Manipulating situations so your child gets an advantage is excused with the words, “I’m only doing what is best for my children”.
These things all have the same core: “Whatever I can get away with is O.K.”
The State of Their Heart
Paul tells us that “The mind of sinful manis death.” These people often don’t recognize that they are spiritually dead and drifting further and further from God. They are like a middle-aged man who is rich and feels on top of the world little knowing that he is about to have a heart attack that will end his life. He is like the criminal who sits in his apartment smugly applauding himself that he has side-stepped the law of the Lord, while the SWAT team gathers outside his apartment.
These people feel life is great but the disease called sin is causing them to drift further and further away from God. They have no direction, purpose or hope for their lives.
Their True Religion
The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (7-8)
These are strong words by the Apostle. Most people don’t feel they are hostile to God. The truth is we should probably translate the text, “The sinful mind is hostile to the TRUE God.” In our day many people consider themselves to be religious or spiritual. The problem is that they have replaced the true God with gods of their own imagination.
This God of contemporary society is a god that makes no demands and only desires that we all get along so everyone can have a good time. There is no accountability, no sin, and no judgment. This God is more of a good luck charm than the Ruler of the Universe.
But the words are even stronger yet. Paul tells us, that not only do these people not submit to God’s law, they CANNOT do so. It is not that they “May” not (they don’t have permission); they CANNOT, which means they don’t have the ability.
In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Some people long to sing, but they have no ear for music. Some want to be great athletes but they don’t have any talent. Some want to be artists but lack an artistic eye. Some want to be scholars but lack the understanding to grasp the profound truth. In a similar way, the non-believer cannot submit to God’s law. They cannot, they will not, and they have no real interest in living for God’s glory.
THOSE WHO LIVE BY THE LIFE OF THE SPIRIT
Again we turn to Galatians where Paul says,
22 But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law. [Gal. 5:22-23]
When we are living life by the Spirit of God we begin to see these characteristics becoming more evident in our lives. In short, we could say we begin to live more like Jesus did.
It is obvious that there are degrees to these two lifestyles. Some people are much more ungodly than others. Others seem to walk more closely with the Spirit than others. This being said, there are still only two kinds of people, those who are led by, governed by, and in love with the sinful nature; and those who are governed by, led by and in love with the way of the Spirit of God.
A New Worldview
Paul says, “those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (v. 5) A person’s worldview (their point of reference for how they see everything else) determines many other things in their life.
- What you do
- What motivates you
- What you consider to be your source of knowledge and authority
- Your value system
- How you view the events and trials of life
The person who lives by the Spirit has a “Christian Worldview”. They seek to do what God tells them to do. They are motivated by the desire to glorify God. They view the Bible as their authority and guidebook for life. Their values are God’s values and the view the things of the world as coming from the Sovereign hand of a strong and powerful God.
This explains some of the division in our country. We are operating from different worldviews. On the one side you have people who have a secular or this-world worldview. On the other are those who operate from a Christian worldview. The first group sees values as changing, the other group sees them as unchanging. You can see why the two groups don’t understand each other. They view everything from a different perspective. This is why things that may be “clear and obvious” to you, is not so clear to someone else.
Many people who go to church each week have a secular worldview. They are religious on Sunday but their faith is separate from their everyday living. They can compartmentalize their faith. Their religion is just one part of their life. Those who walk according to the Spirit have a relationship with God that affects every part of their life. Their faith touches everything they do.
A New Fulfillment and Satisfaction
“The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (v.6) The Spirit-driven person is the one who finds satisfaction, life and peace.
- They have peace with God because they are forgiven though Christ.
- They have peace in the difficult times because they know God is in control
- They tend to have peace with each other because they have come to see other people with the eyes of Christ.
The people who walk by the Spirit are vibrantly alive. They see every good thing as a gift from God. They see every situation as an opportunity to honor God. They enjoy the journey.
A New Power
Paul tells the Romans,
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. [Romans 8:9-11]
This is a powerful statement: if you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior the Holy Spirit is in you. If you do not have the Holy Spirit, you are not a believer. It’s pretty simple. If there is no evidence of the fruit, power, or gifts of God’s Spirit in you, then you are not a true believer. If you find yourself loving God more, desiring to live according to His principles, and looking for ways to honor Him in your life, then you give evidence of the Holy Spirit living in you. If the Holy Spirit lives in you, you are a true believer.
Paul tells us that because the Spirit of God is in us, the resurrection power of our Savior will rule in our lives.
I have three applications to make today. First, we are reminded that the best tool in evangelism is prayer. If a person cannot understand the things of God apart from the Spirit of God, then all the arguing in the world will change no one. We can learn systems, memorize arguments, and recite all the verses we want (all of these things are good in and of themselves) but we will never see a person come to faith unless God first awakens that person’s heart by His Spirit.
Do you want to see someone come to faith? Then pray that God’s Spirit would be at work on them and in them. Ask God to enlighten them. Ask God to bring this person to an awareness of their sin and God’s grace. Don’t give up. Keep praying. God is the one that changes hearts.
Second, this passage gives us strength for the journey of life. Paul has told us that the Holy Spirit lives in all who believe. Later on in this chapter, Paul will remind us of several great promises for those who have the Spirit of God in them.
- We are children of God (v. 14)
- We are “heirs” of God and have a great inheritance waiting for us (v. 17)
- We are headed to Heaven (v. 18)
- We know that God is using every circumstance for good in our lives (v.28)
- The Holy Spirit will pray on our behalf when we don’t know what to say (v. 26)
- God will finish what He starts (v. 30)
- Nothing will ever separate us from His love (vv. 35ff)
We will focus on these promises in the weeks ahead.
Finally, we are reminded that we should seek to set our minds on walking with the Spirit. We need to Ask God to open our hearts to the leadership of His Spirit. In other words, we must really want to be led by God’s Spirit. We need to ask God to teach us to discern the whispers of the Spirit in the midst of the noise of the world.
I love the story of the Indian (Native American) and a New Yorker who were walking down the streets of New York. The Indian suddenly stopped and said, “I hear a cricket”. The New Yorker scoffed because there was so much noise from the traffic. The Indian walked over the a tree in a pot on the side of the road and reached in and pulled out the cricket.
The New Yorker was amazed and said, “How were you able to hear that cricket over all the noise of the city?” He said it all depends on what you have trained yourself to hear. He pulled out some coins from his pocket and dropped them on the ground. Every head in the vicinity turned and looked toward the coins. “See what I mean?” he said.
If you have children you know that you can pick out the cry of your baby from a room full of crying infants. You also know the difference between an “I’m in a bad mood” cry and the “I’m in trouble” cry. You can pick out the cry of your child’s “Dad!” from a large crowd of teenagers. How did we learn to distinguish these things? It was from spending time with our child. We listened and we learned. In the same way we need to learn to hear the voice of God’s Spirit.
First, we must learn to listen when we pray. Most of our prayer is focused on our wants. We must take time to listen for direction. Isn’t it silly that we say, “O Lord, give us direction. Amen.” And then we walk away. If we are willing to hear and are patient to hear, we will hear. God will direct our paths, calm our hearts, and give us the perspective we need.
Second, we must consciously humble ourselves before God. We must remind ourselves that He is God, and we are not. His wisdom is perfect, ours is faulty. We see only the present; He sees where the present is leading. We are like those who have been given one piece of the puzzle. God sees the whole picture.
Third, we must seek God’s direction through His Word. We must do more than just amass knowledge of the Bible, we must work to put it into practice. When God gives a command we must seek to obey that command. When we are told to forgive, we seek to do so. When we are told to encourage one another, we work to be an encourager. When we are told to seek first His Kingdom, we make it our goal to do just that. God’s word is our blueprint for how to live by the Spirit. It’s not enough to have the blueprint and to know what the blueprint says. We must also follow the blueprint as we live our lives.
There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who want to do it on their own and those who walk by God’s Spirit. Which are you?