(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 2/2/03 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Let's read Romans 8, verses 10 through 15:
Romans 8: (10) But if Christ [is] in you, the body indeed [is] dead because of sin, but the Spirit [is] life because of righteousness. (11) But if the Spirit of the [One] having raised Jesus from [the] dead dwells in you, the [One] having raised the Christ from [the] dead will also make your mortal bodies live through the indwelling of His Spirit in you. (12) So, then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to flesh, (13) for if you live according to flesh, you are going to die. But if by [the] Spirit you put to death the practices of the body, you will live. (14) For as many as are led by [the] Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (15) For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again to fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption by which we cry, Abba! Father!
We went over verses 10 and 11 last time, and we saw that since Christ is in those of us who are believers, we are given everlasting life, even though our physical bodies are subject to deterioration and death. We also saw that since we have the same Spirit in us that raised Jesus from the dead, our bodies will be raised from the dead as glorified, spiritual bodies, and we who are God's people will live forever with Christ in heaven. We were comforted with the words in 1 Thessalonians 4 that when Jesus comes again, the dead in Christ will rise first, and those who remain alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ in the air, and we will always be with Christ. This is the blessed hope that all of us who are believers have.
Let's now look at the remainder of this paragraph, beginning with verse 12. The first thing we see is this: "So, then, brothers, we are debtors." The first two words are "So, then." This comes from two Greek words that imply a conclusion. In other words, Paul is saying, "From what we've just seen, we conclude the following." Then he calls his audience "brothers," meaning that he is talking to and about believers. And then comes the phrase, "We are debtors." From what we've just seen, we conclude that we are debtors. That's what he's saying. How did Paul come to the conclusion that we are debtors? The Greek word for "debtors" means "those who owe." The verb that is related to this word means "to owe." So Paul is saying that, in light of the truth just put forth, believers are those who owe something. We owe a debt. But wait a minute! Hasn't our sin debt been totally paid for? Didn't the finished work of Christ on the cross mean that we do not owe anything to God's law and justice? This is true. For all believers in Christ, our sin debt has been paid for IN FULL, and there is NOTHING left for us to pay. Jesus paid it ALL. We DO NOT owe a debt to God's law and justice, because Jesus Christ suffered, bled, and died as the substitute and representative of His people and paid the sin debt. So obviously, when Paul is talking about our being debtors here, he's NOT talking about a remaining debt that we owe to God in order for our sins to be forgiven or in order for us to have fellowship with God. So what is Paul talking about here?
Well, let's first look at the context. Romans 8:1 says that there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus. Verse 2 says that the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus set me free from the law of sin and of death. Verse 4 says that the righteous demand of the Law was fulfilled in us. Verse 9 says that we are in Spirit and the Spirit of God dwells in us. Verse 10 says that the Spirit is life because of righteousness. Verse 11 says that the Spirit will make our mortal bodies live through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. These are all amazing blessings, are they not? As Ephesians 1:3 says, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies with Christ. Through the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no condemnation, we have been set free from the law of sin and death, the demand of the Law is fulfilled in us, we are indwelled with the Holy Spirit who gives us everlasting life, and we will live forever with Christ in eternal communion with Him in heaven. These are the blessings that every Christian receives. And they're all based on the work of Christ alone. Our works have nothing to do with gaining or maintaining these blessings. Christ has secured for us all of the blessings of salvation. SO - IN LIGHT OF THIS - we are debtors. We owe something. What do all of us who are believers owe, in light of these blessings that we have received? We owe God LOVE and THANKFULNESS and PRAISE for what He has done for us! We are indebted to God for the great mercy and love He has shown us by sending His only begotten Son to live a perfectly righteous life on our behalf, to take our sins upon him, to die for those sins on our behalf, to rise again on our behalf, and to intercede on our behalf. We are indebted to the God who regenerated us, who brought us from death to life, who made us new creatures in Christ. THIS is how we are debtors.
Now, since we owe God a debt of love and thankfulness and gratitude and praise for what He has done for us, how are we to SHOW Him that love and thankfulness that we owe Him? Is it merely through words such as "I love you, God" or "thank you, God"? No, it is not merely through these words, although we ARE to show our love and thankfulness with our words of praise and thanksgiving. But what is the MAIN way we show our love and thankfulness to God? It is by our OBEDIENCE to God's commandments. DOING what God commands is the way God has designated for us to show our love for Him. Why are we such sticklers about obedience to the commands of God? Why is it that we are so concerned with this? Why is it that we are always scrutinizing our lives to see how we can conform to God's commandments in everything we think, everything we say, and everything we do? Why is it that we strive for purity of worship? Why is it that we strive for personal purity even in the way we dress? Is it because we're just a bunch of legalists? Is it because we think that these things will gain or maintain God's blessings or favor or forms some part of the ground of our acceptance before God? No - those of us who are Christians do NOT do these things out of legalistic notions of gaining acceptance before God. We know that our acceptance before God is based on the work of Christ ALONE, our works TOTALLY EXCLUDED. So why do we strive to obey in every aspect of our lives? Why are we seen as "puritanical" by the world and even most professing Christians? It is because we LOVE GOD and we desire to show our LOVE and THANKFULNESS to God by our OBEDIENCE to Him. Our OBEDIENCE does not spring from a legalistic fear that God will not accept us if we disobey; it springs from a spirit of love and thankfulness and praise and gratitude for the God who saved us based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of His Son. As we will see in a little while, the Lord willing, our obedience is not out of the legalistic fear for a tyrant; it is out of the love for a father.
Paul tells us in the second half of verse 12 what we are NOT debtors to. What are we NOT debtors to? We are NOT debtors to the flesh. Those of us who owe a debt of love and thankfulness to God do NOT owe a debt to the flesh. And Paul explains what he means by owing a debt to the flesh -- it means to live according to flesh. This is related to what Paul said earlier about the flesh. In verses 1 and 4, we see that believers do not walk according to flesh. In verse 5, we see that those who are according to flesh mind the things of the flesh. In verse 6, we see that the mind of the flesh is death. In verse 7, we see that the mind of the flesh is enmity against God. In verse 8, we see that those in the flesh are not able to please God. In verse 9, we see that believers are not in flesh. And now we see in verse 12 that believers do not live according to flesh, for then we would be debtors to the flesh. If we lived in obedience to our lusts, we would be slaves to our lusts. But we are NOT slaves to uncleanness; we are slaves to righteousness. This kind of language should remind you of a passage we went over a little while ago in Romans 6. Let's go back there and read it. Romans 6:12-23:
Romans 6: (12) Then do not let sin reign in your mortal body, to obey it in its lusts. (13) Neither present your members [as] instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as [one] living from [the] dead, and your members instruments of righteousness to God. (14) For your sin shall not lord it over you, for you are not under Law, but under grace. (15) What then? Shall we sin because we are not under Law, but under grace? Let it not be! (16) Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves [as] slaves for obedience, you are slaves to whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or obedience to righteousness? (17) But thanks [be] to God that you were slaves of sin, but you obeyed from [the] heart the form of doctrine to which you were delivered. (18) And having been set free from sin, you were enslaved to righteousness. (19) I speak as a man on account of the weakness of your flesh. For as you presented your members [as] slaves to uncleanness and to lawless act unto lawless act, so now yield your members as slaves to righteousness unto sanctification. (20) For when you were slaves of sin, you were free as to righteousness. (21) Therefore what fruit did you have then [in the things] over which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things [is] death. (22) But now having been set free from sin, and having been enslaved to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end everlasting life. (23) For the wages of sin [is] death, but the gift of God [is] everlasting life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This leads us right into Romans 8:13: "for if you live according to flesh, you are going to die." "The wages of sin is death." "For the end of those things is death." It's all saying the same thing. Those who live according to flesh, those whose lives are characterized by obedience to unrighteousness, and those who expect everlasting life from their best efforts, are on the path of death. Turn over to Matthew 7:13-14:
Matthew 7: (13) Go in through the narrow gate; for wide [is] the gate and broad [is] the way that leads to destruction, and many are the ones entering in through it. (14) For narrow [is] the gate, and constricted [is] the way that leads away into life, and few are the ones finding it.
Do you get what Jesus said in this passage? What is the way that is the most POPULAR way? What is the way that is the way of the MAJORITY? It is the way the leads to DESTRUCTION! It is truly the "BIG TENT." Have you ever heard of that phrase, "Big Tent"? It means ACCEPTING and TOLERANT of many diverse views. The "big tent" and the "wide gate" are the same thing. This gate is truly wide. It lets ALL KINDS of people in. Not only does it let the openly immoral in, it also lets in the upstanding, moral, religious people who condition their salvation on themselves such as the Roman Catholics and Arminians. It lets in the religious people who love to commit spiritual whoredom in the "big religious tent" such as the mainline Protestants and the tolerant Calvinists. This gate has to be wide, and this path has to be broad, because there are so many different kinds of religious philosophies that are represented here, along with the irreligious and immoral. They're all in a big crowd heading down the broad road to everlasting destruction in hell. These are the ones living according to flesh. And if God does not save a person on this road and cause that person to go through the NARROW gate and walk in the CONSTRICTED way, that person is going to continue on the broad way and is going to not only PHYSICALLY die, but he is also going to die the SECOND DEATH, which is everlasting torment in hell.
Back to Romans 8:13. The second half says, "But if by the Spirit you put to death the practices of the body, you will live." Here is the ANTITHESIS to those who live according to the flesh, those on the broad way that leads to destruction. Here are people who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, put to death the practices of the body. What does it mean to "put to death the practices of the body"? First of all, we need to distinguish the word "flesh" from the word "body." These are two distinct Greek words. The word for "flesh" is SARX, and the word for "body" is SO-ma. Paul didn't say "put to death the practices of the FLESH"; he said "put to death the practices of the BODY." Let's look at some other places in Romans that use SO-ma in this way.
Romans 1: (24) Because of this, God gave them up to impurity in the lusts of [their] hearts, their bodies to be dishonored among themselves,
Romans 6: (12) Then do not let sin reign in your mortal body, to obey it in its lusts.
Romans 8: (10) But if Christ [is] in you, the body indeed [is] dead because of sin, but the Spirit [is] life because of righteousness. (11) But if the Spirit of the [One] having raised Jesus from [the] dead dwells in you, the [One] having raised the Christ from [the] dead will also make your mortal bodies live through the indwelling of His Spirit in you.
We see that the BODIES that are here talked about are physical, material BODIES, with head, torso, arms, legs, hands, and feet. That's what Paul is talking about here in verse 13. The practices of our physical BODIES are to be put to death. So what is this telling us? Obviously, it's not talking about EVERY practice of the body. He's talking about SPECIFIC practices of the body - the ones that are SINFUL practices. Remember in Romans 6:13 we went over the command not to present our members as instruments of unrighteousness? Those MEMBERS are parts of the BODY. Presenting one's members as instruments of unrighteousness means outward unlawful ACTIONS that are the outworkings of the sinful lusts, using the parts of one's BODY. Any part of the body can be involved in sinful actions, such as the eyes, the mouth, the arms, the hands, the sexual organs, the legs, the feet, and so on. So when God says to put to death the practices of the body, He is saying to KILL, to ANNIHILATE, those sinful actions of the parts of the body.
Let's turn to a passage of Scripture that explains in more detail how believers are to act and are not to act with their bodies, especially in one specific instance. Turn over to 1 Corinthians 6:13-20:
1 Corinthians 6: (13) Foods for the belly, and the belly for foods, but God will destroy both this and these. But the body [is] not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (14) And God both raised up the Lord, and [He] will raise us up through His power. (15) Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Then taking the members of Christ, shall I make [them] members of a harlot? Let it not be! (16) Or do you not know that he being joined to a harlot is one body? For He says, "The two [shall be] into one flesh." (17) But the [one] being joined to the Lord is one spirit. (18) Flee fornication. Every sin which a man may do is outside the body, but he doing fornication sins against [his] own body. (19) Or do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of [the] Holy Spirit in you, which you have from God, and you are not of yourselves? (20) You were bought with a price; then glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are of God.
We see that our bodies are for the Lord, our bodies are members of Christ, and our bodies are the dwelling places of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are not for fornication, because fornication is making one's members belong to a harlot. Verse 20 goes right into what I was just saying regarding a believer's obedience. We were bought with a price, with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. THUS, we are to GLORIFY God in our bodies and our spirits, which belong to God. And in the context of this passage, what is involved in glorifying God in our bodies and in our spirits? It is our OBEDIENCE. THAT is what glorifies God. Putting to death the sinful practices of the body - THAT is what glorifies God. Presenting our members as instruments of righteousness - THAT is what glorifies God. And back in Romans 8:13, we see that those who put to death the sinful practices of the body will live. This is in contrast to those who DO NOT put to death the sinful practices of the body, who live according to flesh, who are on the road to destruction.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: True Christians are MORAL, OBEDIENT people. You will not see true Christians living in sin. I'm not saying that Christians are perfect and never sin and are never disobedient or immoral. I'm saying, and the Bible is saying, that a Christian's life is characterized by morality and obedience. Christians strive to conform every facet of their lives to God's Word and flee from wickedness. They put to death the deeds of the body. Yet it is also true that not all who are MORAL are CHRISTIANS. There are multitudes of moral people who are on the broad way that leads to destruction. How can we tell the difference between moral Christians and moral non-Christians? It is by their DOCTRINE. Do they believe the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone? If they do truly believe the true gospel, then they will be moral people. If they do NOT truly believe the true gospel, then they may or may not be moral people, but one thing is true about all of them, and that is that they live according to flesh. Some who live according to flesh live in open immorality. Others who live according to flesh live in morality thinking that their morality forms at least some part of their acceptance before God. But the morality and obedience of true Christians is out of the debt of love and gratitude for God that they have.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I exhort you from God's Word: Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as one living from the dead, and your members instruments of righteousness to God. You were bought with a price; then glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are of God. Amen.