“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1
The key to living the Christian life is how a believer relates to the Holy Spirit who indwells him or her. The Bible tells us that “those who are in Christ Jesus” (all believers) who “walk… according to the Spirit” will not experience “condemnation.” Some translations of the Bible do not include the last part of verse 1 (“who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”) This is unfortunate because the majority of Greek manuscripts along with some of the early manuscripts contain these words at the end of verse 1 which fit beautifully in the context (Rom. 8:1-4).
Paul is saying that believers who walk according to the flesh will experience “condemnation.” The word for condemnation (katakrima) means penal servitude in this context which talks about enslavement to sin (Rom. 7:25; 8:2, 4). Paul is not referring to eternal condemnation in this verse which is in the midst of his section on sanctification (Rom. 6:1-8:39). Prior to Romans 8, Paul describes the spiritual defeat of a believer who is trying to grow spiritually by placing himself under the Law (Rom. 7:13-25). Beginning in Romans 8, Paul answers the question, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24).
How can we walk according to the Spirit and not experience slavery to sin? By setting our “minds on the things of the Spirit” (8:5). When we focus our minds on the things of the Spirit recorded in God’s Word, our minds are “renewed” (12:2) by the Holy Spirit Who applies these truths to our thinking so we do not remain enslaved to sin.
It is important to understand that spiritual growth involves a battle of the mind (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5). Believers who are enslaved to sin have their minds set upon their sinful flesh, trying to gain victory by living under the Law which arouses their fleshly desires (Rom. 8:1, 5; cf. 7:1-25). But believers who are walking in the Spirit are renewing their minds as they permit the Holy Spirit to apply God’s truth to them.
Our behavior is based upon our thinking (Proverbs 23:7). But some Christians turn that around and believe that their thinking is based upon their behavior. So they focus on changing their behavior to change their thinking. This is called reformation. But God wants to change our behavior by changing our thinking first. This is called transformation. The more God changes our thinking through the Holy Spirit’s ministry of God’s Word, the more our behavior will change and become more Christlike. If we try to change our behavior first like Paul did when he placed himself under the Law, we will experience spiritual defeat and continual enslavement to sin (Rom. 7:1-25; 8:1a). But when we let God change our thinking first by focusing on the Holy Spirit and His Word, we will experience freedom from slavery to sin (8:1), resulting in “life and peace” (8:6).
For example, when we focus exclusively on the command not to commit adultery, our sinful flesh is stirred up to commit adultery (cf. Rom. 7:5-11). Simply trying in our own strength to keep that command will result in spiritual defeat or “death.” Failure to keep the Law produces fear and shame which isolates us from God and others. But when we focus our minds on the things of the Spirit which includes not being given “the spirit of bondage again to fear,” but being given “the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (8:15), we are inclined to trust the Holy Spirit to apply that command against adultery to our thinking, enabling us not to commit that sin (Rom. 8:1-6). Walking in the flesh involves fear. But walking in the Spirit involves faith. The more we perceive God to be our good and loving “Abba Father” (8:15), the more we will trust Him and not be afraid. As we walk in the Spirit we will be convicted of our sin which leads to trusting in the Spirit to make godly changes in our lives. So the key to victory is in trusting (grace), not in trying (law).
When we wake up in the morning we have a choice to either walk according to our sinful flesh or walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:1, 5, 12-13). We have the choice to live (in fellowship with God) or die (experience broken fellowship with God).
Prayer: Lord God, please lead me to spiritual victory as I learn to trust Your Spirit to apply Your Word to my thinking instead of trying harder to keep Your Law. In Jesus’ name. Amen.