HOW DO WE NOT LIVE AFTER THE FLESH IF WE LIVE IN BODIES OF FLESH?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“How do you not live after the flesh but after the Spirit? I think I live after the Spirit, but I struggle I think. I am in Christ, but I am also in a mortal body of flesh. You know what I mean?”
Friend, I know what you mean. There seems to be a contradiction, an impossibility. The truth is there really is no conflict here. Firstly, I believe you are referring to Romans 8:12-14, which we read now: “ Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.  For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
We would do well to start at verse 1 to get the thought-flow of the passage about which you are inquiring. Notice how Romans chapter 8 begins: “ There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.  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.”
The clause “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (verses 1 and 4) points to the idea of “live not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (verses 12-13). To wit, “walking” and “living” are the same issue—conduct. To “walk” is the same as “live,” and, as we will see shortly, they are associated with another word—“mind.” There is yet another word—“led”—but that will come at the end. If we can see the relation between all of these words, the issue will become clear to us. We just have to keep the context in mind.
By the way, people needlessly struggle with verse 1 in the King James Bible. They wrongly conclude that it is talking about lost people can escape the condemnation of Hell by walking after the Spirit instead of after the flesh. In a sincere attempt to remove a reference to what they assume is works-salvation, they remove the last 10 words from the verse so that it reads: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” They omit the clause, “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Verse 1 is not talking about soul salvation unto eternal life—that topic was already settled in chapters 1-5. Romans chapters 6-8 are all about daily Christian living. The “condemnation” of Romans 8:1 is not eternal hellfire; it is self-condemnation, a life of which God disapproves. If the Christian is not walking in a clear understanding of the identity issue covered in chapter 6, he or she will wind up under the Law (chapter 7). Chapter 7 is the Apostle Paul totally miserable in the Christian life because he has legalism in his mind instead of grace in his heart. The word “therefore” at the beginning of Romans 8:1 points back to the previous verses.
Notice the close of Romans chapter 7: “ O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” This is a Christian wallowing in, consumed by, self-condemnation. This actually describes many Christians today—so defeated and utterly depressed. The answer is chapter 8—Christians (not lost people) are to follow verse 1 onward. Never forget, friend, that Romans chapter 8 is victory in Christian living, not lost people becoming Christians. This chapter will tell us how, as Christians, we are to “mind the things of the Spirit” instead of “mind the things of the flesh.” How does the Christian have victory over sin?
Romans chapter 8 continues: “ For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Why do people “live after the flesh?” Why do they “walk after the flesh?” Verse 5 tells us that they “mind the things of the flesh.” The term “mind” is being used here in the sense of “regarding, thinking about, paying attention to, obeying.” By the way, “flesh” is the same as “carnal” in verses 6-7. The “fleshly” (or lost person’s) mind is anti-God, so it does not make sense for a Christian (God’s child) to think like a non-Christian. Whenever there is fleshly thinking in the life of a Christian (that is, Romans chapter 7), there is sure to be sin (the flesh and sin are one and the same). How can a Christian live like a lost person? When the Christian thinks like a lost person!
Pardon me for adding a few extra notes here. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God” (verse 8). Lost people have no ability or power whatsoever to please God because they do not have His Word working in them. They have a sin nature, an innermost being that is anti-God, and that controls them. This “carnal mind” is “enmity against God” (verse 7)—this is also true in the Christian’s life. Christians subject to a “carnal mind” are just as useless to God’s cause as unbelievers! If lost and saved people thought differently, relying on God’s Word instead of bad doctrine, they could please God. For lost people, they would come to understand their need for the Saviour, Jesus Christ, and then place their faith in Him and His finished crosswork as sufficient payment for their sins. They would thereby become Christians. For saved people, they could walk by faith in that crosswork on a daily basis, the Holy Spirit bringing about Christian living in their life.
Romans chapter 8 continues: “ But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.  And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  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.”
We are “in the Spirit” because we are saved in Christ (verse 9)—lost people are “in the flesh” (verse 8). If we are “in the Spirit,” and we are because we trusted Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour, then we should think like the Spirit thinks. If we are “in the Spirit,” we need to mind the things of the Spirit, instead of minding the things of the flesh. It is understandable that those “in the flesh” think fleshly—we cannot expect them to be anything other than people controlled by their flesh. However, it does not make sense for Christians to behave like this. Christians should think like the Christians that they are, instead of thinking like the lost people that they are not! The Spirit of God has given us new life in Christ (Romans chapter 6). Thus, we need to think in accordance with that new identity. Notice how this is expanded upon in the coming verses.
The Bible says in Romans 8:12-14: “ Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.  For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
There is the tendency for the Christian to say in his or her defense, “But I have to sin because I am related to Adam!” No, we do not have to sin. Verse 12 says: “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.” We have no obligation to follow our position “in the flesh” because we are no longer “in the flesh.” We are “in the Spirit.” Romans 8:8-9 again: “ So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.  But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” And, verses 10-11: “ And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  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.” In light of this, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (verse 12).
Rather than “the flesh,” “living after the flesh,” causing the Christian life to be functionally dead, we choose “the Spirit,” and the Spirit will revive us so that we walk in newness of life (verse 13). This is the “led by the Spirit of God” of verse 14. The Spirit of God will resurrect us to new life just as He resurrected Jesus Christ to walk in newness of life. Let us go back to Romans chapter 6—you can read all of the chapter, but we will read just a sampling of verses.
Romans 6:9-12 says: “ Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.  For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” (See, had Paul had this in mind, the things of the Spirit, he would not have wound up in his “fleshly” dilemma in chapter 7. Romans chapter 6 is the Christian identity, chapter 7 is the failure to see that identity, and chapter 8 is a reaffirmation of that identity. Christians today would not have wound up in the misery of Romans chapter 7 had they believed the truths set forth in chapter 6!)
You are correct. We do live in fleshly bodies, bodies connected to Adam. However, that does not contradict “live after the Spirit not the flesh.” The “flesh” here is not our literal body of flesh and blood, but rather the natural capacity of a fallen man (sin nature). To “live after the flesh” (verses 12-13) is the idea of “following” the old sin nature and fulfilling the desires of the old sin nature. In other words, we are living contrary to who we are in Christ. We are living like we were before we came to Christ. Sin dominates us—we get confused, we fail, we get discouraged. Following a performance-based system, legalism/law, is how to have sin rule over us (recall Paul’s problem in chapter 7—living the Christian life under the Law). If, however, we “through the Spirit do mortify [put to death] the deeds of the body, [we] shall live” (Romans 8:13). The “body” there is the flesh-and-blood body.
The way we “walk after the flesh” is to think about things other than the grace of God. Using our own opinions, church tradition, rules and regulations, and the speculations of theologians, we make the Christian life futile and frustrating. This is how we wind up in sin. However, if we mind the things of the Spirit, the Christian life will be brought into our life. The key here is to think on the things of the Spirit. These “things of the Spirit” are the principles of grace already presented earlier in the Book of Romans—see chapters 3-7 especially.
Remember, the Spirit of God teaches spiritual things (Bible doctrine), as 1 Corinthians 2:10-14 says: “ But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.  For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.  Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The “natural man” (verse 14) is the lost man we made reference to earlier, the person “in the flesh” (Romans 8:8-9).
Romans 8:14 is the capstone, a further explanation, of the passage about which you are inquiring: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” So, we went from “walk” (verse 1), to “mind” (verse 5), to “live” (verse 13), to “led” (verse 14). To “live after the Spirit” (verse 13) is to follow (or “follow after”) the Spirit of God’s leading in sound Bible doctrine. The Holy Spirit will take the rightly divided Scriptures that we read and believe, and empower us to experience the life of Christ described in those verses. It all starts with a renewed mind, thinking the way God would have a grace believer/Christian think. Romans 12:1-2 will go on to say: “ I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Going back to Romans 8:13 to tie up some loose ends: “ For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” The “dying” here is not dying and going to Hell; it is the failure of the Christian life. We can either function as God intended Christians behave, and experience God’s life. Or, we can ignore the principles of grace, cause our Christian life to fall apart, and that will bring nothing but failure (sin) and despair.
Romans 8:12-14 once again: “ Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.  For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” However, if we are “led by the Spirit of God,” we will reckon ourselves dead indeed to sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ (see Romans 6:11 once more). That will enable us to behave as full-grown, mature sons of God. We will do what He does in us because He gives us that ability in the doctrine stored in us.
Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
1 Thessalonians 2:13: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
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