Volume 38 | Number 2 | March/April 2010

Inglés Español

Walking in the Spirit, Romans 8:1–4

By Dr. H. T. Spence

As the Christian comes to know “the Way” found in Jesus Christ, he must also come to know the “walk in the Way.” That walk should be a “walk in the Spirit.” As the Book of Romans unfolds, four crucial phrases in principle arise between 5:12 through 8:39 that summarize the theological burden of Paul’s epistle. Romans 5:12 through 6:23 are dominated by the distinction between life “in Adam” and life “in Christ.” Then in Romans 7:1 through 8:39 another distinction arises between walking “in the flesh” and walking “in the Spirit.”

We must understand the relationship of these four phrases. The first two phrases are objective, setting forth our position: we were first by nature “in Adam”; now by faith in the redemptive work, we are “in Christ.” The latter two phrases are subjective and relate to our “walk” as a matter of practical experience, walking either “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit.” The Scriptures make it clear: the first two give us only a part of the picture; yet the second two are required to complete it. How often we think it enough to be “in Christ” only to learn after some time in trying to walk the Christian way that we must also “walk in the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, 4, 9). The frequent occurrence of “the Spirit” in the early part of Romans 8 serves to emphasize that there is a deepening of the Christian life to be known.

Distinctions in the Phrases

Obviously the “flesh” is linked with “Adam” and the “Spirit” is linked with “Christ.” As we enter Romans 8, the question of whether we are in Adam or in Christ must already be settled. In this chapter the present burden is “Am I living in the Flesh or in the Spirit?” To live in the flesh is to do something out from myself; when Adam took of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, he responded out of himself. To live in the flesh is to derive strength from the old natural source of life that I inherited from Adam. Similarly, to live or walk in the Spirit is to derive strength from the new source of life we find in Christ.

We must come to see that just as the flesh and Adam are inextricably bound together, so are the Spirit and Christ. It is true that the old man was crucified in Christ (Romans 6:6). Therefore, if I do not live in the Spirit, my Christian life will be a contradiction: while professing to be “in Christ” positionally, I will have chosen to walk “in the flesh,” the old life of Adam.

Therefore, what is the problem? Although I am holding the truth objectively, that objective truth must be made true subjectively—this is brought about by living “in the Spirit.” Not only am I “in Christ,” but also Christ is “in me.” Just as a man can only breathe air not water, so likewise Christ dwells and manifests Himself in terms of the “Spirit” not “flesh.” Therefore, if I live “after the flesh,” I am not living what I am in—that is, “in Christ.” My experience in living is not the same as my position. In order to come to know all that is “in Christ,” I must learn to live “in the Spirit.” We cannot live “in Christ” and live “in the flesh,” for the flesh is that which comes forth out of a life “in Adam.”

In the battle of Romans 7, the individual “in Christ” is attempting to live “in the flesh,” that by-product of Adam. If one is living “in Christ,” then the outflow of that life must be that which comes out of Christ, a walk “in the Spirit.” Note the declaration of Galatians 2:20:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

This is a very important phrase: “Yet not I, but Christ.” The life we live is the life of Christ alone. Although we think of the Christian life as a “changed life,” perhaps it is more than that. What God offers is an “exchanged life,” a substituted life, and Christ is our substitute within. I live, and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me! This is a life that we do not produce; Christ’s own life is produced in us! Regeneration is the life of Christ that is planted in us by the Holy Spirit at our New Birth. It is a “reproduction”; it means that the new life grows and becomes manifest progressively in us, until the very likeness of Christ begins to be reproduced in our lives.

Galatians 4:19 declares, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” Paul speaks of his birthing them again, because they are tending to follow another Gospel and he needs to bring them back. “Until Christ be formed in you.” This verb is expressing the necessity of a change in character within and conduct to correspond with the inward spiritual condition, the conformity to Christ. There was little of His beauty in their lives. The word again tells us that at one time Christ was clearly and abundantly evident in their experience. Now He ceases to be seen in them. The passive voice of the verb “be formed,” tells us that the Lord Jesus dwells in the heart of a Christian in a passive way, and thus does not express Himself through the Christian. Christ has given that ministry over to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was not able to minister the Lord Jesus to and through the Galatians in a full measure. This becomes the powerful truth in Galatians: the need of the Spirit Who forms, Who manifests both character and expression of Christ in the life. Christ has given this authority over to the Spirit Who glorifies the Christ within.

Galatians 5:16 states, “This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” What a truth Paul declares here! If we walk in the Spirit, we will not (a double negative in the Greek) fulfill the lust (or desires) of the flesh. When we have wrong responses in life, such as anger, bitterness, impatience, should we pray for just a change of spirit, attitude, or manner? Am I to seek some separate gift of Christ’s grace to correct this? No, I must see it is more of Christ I need! Christ is to be my patience! He is to be the life that I now live! I want Him to live out His life in me! First Corinthians 1:30 tells us, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” He becomes what I need! He becomes love, humility, power, self-control, and holiness; He is made to be that for me!

I must grow in grace, in Christ daily! All true Christians have the same Christ within. The revelation of some new spiritual need will lead us to trust Him to live out His life in us in that particular matter. Christ is my life! He is the secret of enlargement! “Lord, I cannot do it; therefore, I will no longer try to do it!” This is not passivity; it is a most active life of Christ in me. Once again, Christ is my life!

The Law of the Spirit of Life

Romans 8:2 speaks of a “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” This is a governing principle that is to take over our lives once we are “in” Christ Jesus. It is the governing principle of the “Spirit of life.”

We are also told in verse 1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” The reader may wonder why this declaration is not placed back in Romans 5:1. We must realize there are two kinds of condemnation: The first condemnation is one before God as a result of guilt for my sins. The second condemnation is one that rises before my own self. When I see that the Blood of Christ has satisfied God, then I know my sins are forgiven, and there is for me no more condemnation before God. Yet I may still know defeat (Romans 7); the sense of inward condemnation on this account may be very real. If I have learned to live by Christ as my life and I have learned to be more than a conqueror because of the life of Christ, then there is therefore no condemnation. The mind of the Spirit of life and peace (8:6) should now control my thinking; there is no civil war within myself as found in Romans 7.

How often the “carnal” Christian lives in the struggle of both the Old Man and the New Man. According to the first part of Romans 7, this is spiritual adultery. In order to be lawfully married to a second husband, the first husband must die. For the Christian to come into this full love in Christ, that first husband, the Old Man (Romans 6:6), must be dead. What lies behind the sense of condemnation of Romans 8:1? Is it not the experience of defeat and the sense of helplessness to do anything about it?

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
I find then a law [a governing principle], that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
But I see another law [governing principle] in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! [O miserable man that I am] who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:19-25a).

How often Bible commentaries refer to this man of Romans 7 as an unconverted man. To the contrary, this man delights in the law of God inwardly! This could not be said of the sinner. This is truly a man on the road of Christ, “in Christ”; nevertheless, he has not come to the “law [governing principle] of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” which has made him “free from the law [governing principle] of sin and death.” This carnal Christian cannot do the things that he wants to do; he cannot do the right and good which he wants to do. Even in Romans 8:8, when speaking of the carnal, we observe, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” This cannot be referring to the physical flesh, for then no one could ever please God; but this is referring to the governing principle of the flesh that controls the life. There should be no “I cannot” when I am “in Christ”; for I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me! How can Paul say this? In Romans 8:2, the law of the Spirit of life has been proved stronger than another law called the law of sin and death. I must be set free from one law and controlled by another law. Being in Christ, a different law must govern me—the law of the Spirit of life!

Now there must be the manifestation of this law of life in the Spirit. Certainly man’s “will” plays a part. This matter of the “will” was the problem in Romans 7: the will was good, but all its actions were contradictory (7:18b). Although he made up his mind and set himself to please God, it led him only into worse misery. “I would do good,” but “I am carnal, sold under sin” (7:14b). That is the point! Many Christians endeavor to drive themselves by willpower, and then think the Christian life is a most exhausting and bitter one, like a car without gas that always has to be pushed. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Why do men use willpower to try to please God? One reason could be they may not have been born again; therefore, they have no new life from which to draw. Then again, they may have been born again but have not learned to draw from that life, or to trust in that life. Their lack of understanding results in habitual failure and sinning, bringing them to the place where they almost cease to believe in the possibility of anything better.

Romans 6:23

One of the most misinterpreted passages of Scripture in the New Testament has been Romans 6:23. It is always quoted for sinners: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It must carefully be noted that every time the term sin is used in Romans 5 through 8, it is referring to the sin principle, not the act of sin. In the Greek it has the definite article, “the” sin, the sin principle, or the governing principle of sin. But to whom is Romans 6:23 directed? Romans 6:23 addresses specifically the Christian, the carnal Christian: the wages of “the” sin principle is death! It will always lead a Christian to deadly things; it is a principle of death within the life. The gift of God—eternal life—is to be found in holiness (6:22); we do not want the principle of death within; we want the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. I must come to discover this law that governs the life in Christ; yes, it is the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. Do we read the Bible because we have to? Or is there a hunger for it? Do we live the Christian life out of labor and without the peace of God dwelling in the heart?

We must come to this New Law that is to dominate and govern our lives. In Matthew 6, Christ referred to the birds and urges us to consider the lilies. They both contradict the law (or the governing principle) of gravity: birds fly upward and lilies grow upward. The birds fly because it is the “law” of their life to fly. Gravity remains, but they have overcome that law of gravity; the life within that dominates their consciousness enables them to respond to flight. When trials come and circumstances arise, will we be drawn to the flesh or to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus? “Consider the lilies.” “They grow!” “They toil not!” What would happen in our lives if such a law had the controlling power over us? Could this life control our thoughts? Our immaturity? Our lack of wisdom? Our crude ways? Our sarcasm? Our impoliteness? Our unlovely ways? Our selfishness? Our own way? Oh, the hundreds of details such a law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus could control!

Romans 8:3-4 states, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” This passage calls us to “walk in the Spirit.” There are two things presented here: first, what the Lord Jesus has done “for us,” and second, what He has done “in us.” The flesh is weak; consequently, the ordinance of the law cannot be fulfilled in us “after the flesh.” This is not a question of salvation, but of pleasing God!

Because of our inability, God took two steps. In the first place He intervened to deal with the heart of our problem. He sent His Son in the flesh, who died for sin, and in doing so “condemned sin in the flesh.” That is to say, He took to death representatively all that belonged to the old creation in us, whether we speak of it as “our old man,” or “the flesh,” or the carnal “I”. Thus God struck at the very root of our trouble by removing the fundamental ground of our weakness. This was the first step. But still “the ordinance of the law” remained to be fulfilled in us. How could this be done? It required God’s further provision of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He was sent to take care of the inward side of this matter, and He is able to do so, we are told, as “we walk after the Spirit.”


What does it mean to “walk after the Spirit”? First, it is not a work; it is a walk. How fruitless is our effort to please God when we seek “in the flesh” to please God. That is why Paul contrasts the “works” of the flesh with the “fruit” of the Spirit (Galatians 5). To walk “after” implies subjection. Walking after the flesh is subjection to the flesh, yielding to the dictates of the flesh (Romans 8:5-8). To walk after the Spirit is to be subject to the Spirit. I cannot be independent of Him. I must be subject to the Holy Spirit. It is to be no longer by me, but in the Holy Spirit. We are also told in Romans 8:14 that it is imperative to be “led by the Spirit of God.” Many of us know that Christ is our life. Although so many profess that the Spirit of God is resident within them, why does this fact seem to have little effect upon their behavior?

What will control our lives as professing Christians? What will control our spirits, our moods, and our trials? Will the Flesh control our being “in Christ,” or will the Spirit control? Some Christians may have a disposition that is given to easy despair, but God forbid that we allow such a disposition to control our Christian life. Some are given to crudeness in speaking to others, or bluntness or bossiness with people, or saying things that should not be said or in a tone of voice that should not be used. How do we get along with others? What about our talk about others or certain looks that are not becoming to a Christian? Note Ephesians 4:29-32:

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

May God enable us to “live” in the Spirit, to “walk” after the Spirit, and to “pray” in the Spirit. May we be delivered from the power of the flesh so that we will not grieve the Holy Spirit. Thank God for The Way, and the way within the way, and the privilege of walking the way by “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”